The DAF/QAAFI Australian Sorghum Research Group (AusSoRGM) field meeting was recently held on Friday the 15th of April, and was attended by more than 40 eager participants.
The annual meeting brings together sorghum researchers with the aim of building collaborative relationships and providing new researchers with a broader understanding of the context of their own research. The group included everyone from seed company staff to promising undergraduate students considering postgraduate training in sorghum-oriented projects. Although there is some reference to experimental results, the focus of the day is on the current methods being utilised and the resources available for research.
The day was held at Hermitage Research Facility at Warwick, Queensland, and throughout the day participants toured a number of very different experimental sites. QAAFI’s Professor David Jordan welcomed the attendees and encouraged everyone to gain maximum value from the day by meeting new people and taking away ideas.
At the first tour stop, Alan Cruickshank (DAF) described how the Sorghum Pre-Breeding project produces germplasm relevant to both the male-sterile and fertility restoring gene pools that are used to produce commercial hybrids.
Alan then led the group through the wide crossing nursery where the DAF/QAAFI team produce BCNAM (Back-Cross Nested Association Mapping) populations. This nursery includes crosses with cultivated sorghums for the Sorghum Pre-Breeding project (supported by GRDC investment) and crosses with wild sorghum accessions as part of a project supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
Andries Potgieter (QAAFI) then spoke about using the GECKO (Genetic and Environment Characterisation through Kinetic Observation) for high throughput phenotyping. The GECKO is a ground-based platform that carries a range of sensing apparatus including visual and hyperspectral cameras, sonar and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). Andries predicts that the fundamental research being undertaken with the GECKO will discover key predictive measurements (e.g. specific wavelengths) that can be deployed in cheaper more convenient platforms such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Ken Laws also demonstrated a UAV flying a prescribed plan over an experiment.
At the second tour stop Professor Jordan introduced the two key sets of genetic resources being used in current studies – a panel of diverse sorghum conversion (SC) lines used for association mapping and a larger panel of single backcross lines collectively known as a Back-Cross Nested Association Mapping (BCNAM) population. Dr Emma Mace (DAF) discussed the power of using these complementary genetic resources for identifying and locating causal genes.
Dr Marie Bouteille-Pallas (QAAFI) described how she and her colleagues have measured a number of key traits on these genetic mapping populations in different environments. These traits could lead to greater photosynthetic productivity in sorghum crops (and possibly in other species as well).
Similarly Dr Yongfu Tao (QAAFI) has studied the genetic and environmental influences on maximum grain size of sorghum in the two mapping populations grown at both Hermitage and Gatton Research Facilities over two years. He was able to describe his techniques and provide some findings to the group.
There was a lot of genetic diversity to explore along the way. The group was given time to look through the SC line experiment and see a good sample of the remarkable morphological variability of grain sorghum.
At the next stop, Dr Barbara George-Jaeggli (DAF & QAAFI) discussed some plant specific characteristics to improve photosynthesis and shared insights with the group from a highly specialised experiment on a small number of divergent sorghum genotypes.
PhD candidate Xuemin Wang (UQ) talked about detailed measurement of phenology and canopy development of specific sorghum genotypes. The aim of this work is parameterising a number of different “types” of grain sorghum hybrids for the sorghum module of the APSIM model. This work will extend the robustness and usefulness of the model, but importantly will also allow a stronger relationship between simulation and the crucial multi-environment yield testing of germplasm.
The AusSoRGM group meets twice each year facilitated by the Sorghum Pre-Breeding team. The larger meeting is held in late July to share and discuss the results of research projects. The meeting presides over one and a half days and is held at an overnight venue to encourage discussion among all participants and enable the strengthening of relationships within the research group. The field meeting is held in late summer or early autumn with the aim of exhibiting experiments at or nearing completion. In the past the AusSoRGM field meeting has been spread over multiple research locations e.g. Hermitage Research Facility at Warwick and other DAF, UQ and Advanta facilities located at Gatton.