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Current Members

Associate Professor Alex Johnson – Principle investigatorAlex J staff photo 2020 cropped

• GradCert – University Teaching (University of Melbourne, 2016)
• PhD – Horticulture (Virginia Tech, 2001)
• MSc – Horticulture (Virginia Tech, 1998)
• BA – Biology (Gustavus Adolphus College, 1996)

I have worked as a teaching and research academic at the University of Melbourne since 2009. I am particularly interested in molecular and physiological aspects of plant nutrition and my lab investigates these areas with a variety of tools including metabolic profiling, genetic engineering and gene editing. I teach into several undergraduate and postgraduate subjects at the University including first year biology (BIOL10008 & BIOL10009) and am actively involved in postgraduate student supervision. I also serve as Associate Dean (International) in the Faculty of Science and am on the board of the University of Melbourne Botany Foundation.

Jesse BeasleyDr Jesse Beasley – Postdoctoral research associate

• PhD – BioSciences (University of Melbourne, 2020)
• MSc – BioSciences (University of Melbourne, 2015)
• BSc – Molecular Biotechnology (University of Melbourne, 2013)

Growing up in regional Victoria I developed a strong interest in agriculture, food production and nutrition from an early age. My recently completed PhD project “A metabolic engineering approach for iron and zinc biofortification of bread wheat: impacts on plant growth, grain nutrition and food processing” included aspects of research that spanned the wheat value chain and introduced me to the field of animal nutrition. I am currently working on an ARC Linkage project that aims to generate bread containing more bioavailable iron through targeted manipulation of plant-derived phytonutrients at several points along the wheat-to-bread supply chain.

Dr Stephanie Watts-Fawkes (nee Watts-Williams) – Incoming ARC DECRASteph cropped

• PhD – Plant and Soil Science (Monash University, 2015)
• BEnvSci (Hons) – Plant Science (Monash University, 2010)

I am interested in how the plant-fungal symbiosis known as arbuscular mycorrhizas can improve crop zinc (Zn) nutrition on nutrient-depleted soils, working towards the ultimate goal of improving human (micro)nutrition. My most recent work at the University of Adelaide uncovered the novel plant transporter responsible for Zn uptake from soil into the plant via the mycorrhizal uptake pathway in the model legume Medicago truncatula, MtZIP14. In my future work as an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) fellow, I will investigate how the mycorrhizal symbiosis interacts with Zn and Fe bioavailablity in important cereal crops, by focusing on how they affect phytate accumulation in the grain.

Oscar Fung – PhD studentOscar

• MSc – BioSciences (University of Melbourne, 2020)
• BSc – Genetics (Monash University, 2018)

I have a keen interest in genetics and particularly emerging biotechnological tools, such as genome editing.  These exciting new tools can not only aid researchers but also propel lab research into real-world application. My recently completed masters project used reverse genetics to understand the role of a transcription factor involved in plant Fe homeostasis. My hope is that this research will contribute to our understanding of Fe-related crop nutrition.

Rucha Patil – MSc studentRucha2

• BSc (Blended) – BioSciences (Savitribai Phule Pune University, 2019)

Human iron deficiency is a major problem in countries where micronutrient-poor cereal products such as bread are consumed as staple foods. In my research project I am exploring the potential of yeast and bacterial co-cultures to improve iron bioavailability in sourdough bread. My project is a collaboration between Kate Howell’s lab in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Alex Johnson’s lab in the Faculty of Science.

Amy Liu – MSc studentamy-liu-photo-for-lab-page cropped

• BSc – Plant Science (University of Melbourne, 2019)

I am keen to develop more sustainable food production systems for the rapidly growing human population. I believe new biotechnological tools will be key drivers for the production of higher-yielding crops. My research project involves molecular and glasshouse characterization of genome-edited rice plants that may display enhanced abiotic stress tolerance and/or yield.

Edbert Parlindungan – MSc studentEdbert Parlindungan

• BSc – Agri Food Biotechnology (University of Melbourne, 2020)

Nicotianamine functions as an important metal chelator in plants and facilitates the transport, storage and remobilization of several mineral micronutrients such as iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn). My research project involves functional characterisation of the large nicotianamine synthase gene family in bread wheat, and aims to determine how nicotianamine synthase expression level and subcellular localisation affects Fe and Zn nutrition in this important staple food crop.

Recent Alumni

• Ronan Broad – PhD student, graduated 2020. Contact:

• Ouda Khammy – Lab supervisor, 2017-2020. Contact:

• Marianne Weisser – PhD student, graduated 2020. Contact:

• Julien Bonneau – Postdoctoral researcher, 2013-2019. Contact:

• Martin O’Brien – Postdoctoral researcher, 2017-2019. Contact:

• Natasha Nyangoma – Graduate Diploma in Science (Advanced Botany), graduated 2019. Contact:

• Laura Moreno – Postdoctoral researcher, 2015-2017. Contact:

• Tonatiuh Sánchez-Palacios – Postdoctoral researcher, 2014-2016. Contact:

• Jamie Selby-Pham – PhD student, graduated 2016. Contact:

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