2007 BioGENEius Challenge
Five students, three from Murdoch College and two from Shenton College completed the test competition. These students were mentored by Murdoch University, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology UWA, the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR), and Saturn Biotech.
Their research projects covered a range of exciting areas investigating the proteomics of subclover crop varieties, plant fungicide resistance, the affects on table grapes of using certain preservative treatments and designing new proteins for the treatment of certain cancers.
The test group were judged in April 2008 by a panel chaired by 2005 Nobel Laureate for Medicine, Dr Robin Warren. The panel selected Oliver Tester, from Murdoch College and Bindhu Hollavanahalli from Shenton College to represent Western Australia.
In June 2008 the students took their ground-breaking research to San Diego. Competing against students from the USA and Canada, Oliver and Bindhu were awarded third and fourth prize respectively.
Oliver Tester undertook research on the “Discovery of Peptide Markers to differentiate and test purity of Subterranean Clover Seed using Proteomic analysis and Mass spectrometry.
Subterranean clover is one of the major legume grazing species in Australia. However certain varieties of sub-clover are high in Oestrogen and can cause sheep infertility. It is therefore important to be able to easily test the purity of seed batches and differentiate between varieties. The current method is to grow them out which takes six weeks, it is costly and some varieties have indistinguishable morphological features.
The aim of Oliver’s research was to discover enough unique markers within each sub-clover variety to make a simple variety identification and purity test. This was achieved using proteomic analysis and mass spectrometry techniques to obtain the molecular weights of peptide within the seed. From this graphs were produced showing markers unique to that variety and a library of ‘fingerprints’ identifying each variety was formed.
The new methods applied through this research project have reduced time to only two days with a high degree of accuracy. This research will now be implemented by the mentor organisation as part of a new subterranean clover seed certification scheme.
Oliver was mentored by Professor Chris Florides, Managing Director of Saturn BioTECH at Murdoch University. Saturn BioTECH is the West Australian leader in molecular genetic technologies at Murdoch University. Saturn BioTECH uses the latest equipment and enabling technologies, such as bioinformatics, robotics etc, to deliver quality, high throughout, molecular genetic and proteomic services to agriculture and related industries.
Bindhu Holavanahalli completed her final year studies at Shenton College while undertaking research into “A novel study into the Effect of Post-Harvest Treatments with Sulphur dioxide and Resveratrol on Gene Expression Patterns of Table Grape Berries”.
To get from the vine to the consumer, table grapes can be stored for up to five months. This requires the use of preservatives, such as sulphur dioxide (currently used in industry) and Resveratrol (a possible alternative, derived from the grape itself.) Although the macroscopic effect of these treatments in preserving shelf-life and fruit quality is known, the effect that these treatments have on the molecular interactions of the grape itself are not. What genes are activated? What role do they play? What does this mean for the consumer?
In Bindhu’s research, cutting-edge GeneChip technology was used to study how the gene-expression of berries changed when they were treated with either Resveratrol or Sulphur dioxide. This was monitored over a period of 56 days, to observe how this expression changed over time.
It was found that sulphur dioxide may be fuelling the synthesis of antioxidants in grapes. Resveratrol treated grapes were seen to possibly slow down the grape’s metabolism, increasing shelf life. It was also determined that gene expression reached a peak 2 to 3 weeks after treatment, indicating when there may be increased antioxidant activity within the grape.
For the consumer, this may mean that 2 to 3 weeks after treatment is the best time to consume grapes, however, this conclusion can only be firmly drawn after further analysis.
Dr Aneta Ivanova of the ARC Centre of Excellence at the University of Western Australia mentored Bindhu. The principal aim of this Centre is to aid in the discovery and characterization of molecular components and control mechanisms that drive energy metabolism in plant cells. The Centre generates resources and knowledge to improve plant performance, particularly in marginal environments and in response to climate change. The Centre’s education program contributes to the training of a new generation of plant science researchers and increase the public and industry profile of molecular and genomic agricultural science in Australia.