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Current Members

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

• PhD – Virginia Tech (2001)
• MSc – Virginia Tech (1998)
• BA – Gustavus Adolphus College (1996)

I am a plant biologist with interests in nutrition and abiotic stress tolerance, my research group aims to produce more nutritious and higher yielding staple crops. I also teach into several undergraduate and postgraduate subjects at the University including first year biology (BIOL10008 & BIOL10009). I am on the board of the University of Melbourne Botany Foundation and serve as Associate Dean (International) in the Faculty of Science.

Ouda Khammy – Lab supervisorOuda2

• BSci(Hons) – The University of Melbourne (2009)
• BAppSci(Laboratory Medicine) – RMIT University (2008)

Behind the research scene there is me – the group’s laboratory supervisor. I manage most of the administrative, safety, compliance, and equipment aspects of Alex Johnson’s laboratory. Complementing my interests in lab management and applied science, I also work in the lab assisting the researchers. If there is anything you need to know or any resources you require, I am your best source of contact.

Julien BonneauDr. Julien Bonneau – Postdoctoral researcher

• PhD – Science – 2012 – University of Adelaide under Cotutelle with The University of Blaise Pascal, France
• MSc – Science and Technology – 2008 – University of Blaise Pascal, France
• BSc equivalent Higher National Diploma – 2003 – Bel-Air College, Fontenay le Comte, France

I am interested in understanding the genetic factors regulating micronutrient mineral content in staple food crops such as rice and wheat. My current research focuses on characterizing bread wheat genes involved in uptake, sequestration, homeostasis and grain loading of iron and zinc. I led our group’s recent project to identify and characterize the NAS gene family in bread wheat (Bonneau et al. 2016) and am now helping to identify other metal homeostasis genes. Once characterized, these genes can be used to enhance the growth and nutrition of bread wheat using conventional breeding and/or biotechnology.

Jesse BeasleyJesse Beasley – PhD student

• BSc – Molecular Biotechnology (University of Melbourne, 2013)
• MSc – Biosciences (University of Melbourne, 2015)

Feeding the growing human population into the future will be an issue of both food quantity and quality. My primary interest is in exploring novel ways to tackle the issue of global food security using plant biotechnology. Biofortification is a cost effective and efficient strategy to enhance the nutritional quality of the world’s most important food crops. I am working on a PhD research project involving field and laboratory based analyses of iron biofortified bread wheat.

Ronan BroadRonan Broad – PhD student

• BSc – Biological Sciences (University of Canterbury, 2011)
• MSc – Biotechnology (University of Canterbury, 2014)
• CA – Philosophy (University of Canterbury, 2015)

I am working on a new direction to combat human iron (Fe) deficiency; the biofortification of staple crops with ascorbic acid (AsA), commonly known as vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is a strong enhancer of Fe bioavailability and is able to overcome inhibitors of Fe absorption in the human intestine. Most staple crops, however, have low AsA content. Increasing AsA concentrations in staple crops could therefore represent a low-cost and sustainable strategy for increasing human dietary intakes of bioavailable Fe. My PhD project focuses on the characterization of rice plants with increased levels of GDP-L-galactose phosphorylase, an enzyme which regulates the major rate limiting step in AsA biosynthesis in plants.

Marianne WeisserMarianne Weisser – PhD student

• MSc – Plant Biotechnology, Molecular Plant Breeding and Pathology emphasis (Wageningen University – 2010)
• BScAgr – Horticulture and Floriculture emphasis (Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso – 2004)

I am interested in understanding plant nutritional responses to global climate change, with a particular interest in the impact of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) on the iron (Fe) content of wheat. My research focuses on understanding the metabolism of Fe in relation to its uptake, translocation and relocation in wheat from the vegetative stage through to maturity under both ambient and elevated CO2. I am conducting the majority of my research experiments at the Australian Grain Free-air CO2 Enrichment (AGFACE) facility in Horsham, Victoria. This state of the art facility enables realistic simulations of future atmospheric conditions at the agronomic scale. Additionally, I am evaluating biofortification as an approach to overcoming the problem of lower Fe and Zn contents in wheat grain under elevated CO2.

Oscar Fung – MSc studentOscar

• 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 masters project uses 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.

Recent Alumni

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

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

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

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

• Dr. Jamie Selby-Pham – PhD student, 2012-2016. Contact:

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