Abstract - From the very early origin of living cells there was a need to regulate osmotic adjustment. In all kingdoms of life there are types of proteins, called aquaporins, which help to meet this need by facilitating the rapid transport of solutes across cell membranes. Our team works on testing the roles of aquaporin ion transport in cell osmotic adjustment in plant cells. Aquaporins first gained fame for their remarkable capacity to rapidly transport water whilst excluding ions. We recently reported the first plant plasma membrane aquaporin that can function both as a water channel and an ion channel, and we are working on testing the physiological roles of plant aquaporin ion transport and studying how these channels are regulated. By characterising the function of these proteins we are generating new knowledge about plant nutrient uptake and transport and the mechanisms involved in cell expansion during growth and osmotic adjustment.
Biography - Dr Byrt (University of Adelaide) is in the business of studying plants that differ in their tolerance to stresses such as drought and salinity to determine what makes some plants more tolerant than others, and testing how we can use this information to modify our food crops to improve their performance in challenging environments. She is part of a team that identified through a forward genetics approach a gene in a wild wheat which contributes to salinity tolerance. Using this information they were able to improve the salinity tolerance of modern durum wheat resulting in increased grain yields on saline soil. Dr Byrt is currently investigating plant water channels that function like pores in cell membranes that can be opened and closed to control the flow of solutes throughout the plant, and the relationship between changes in plant cell wall composition and regulation of membrane transporters in response to environmental stress. Her research is supported by an ARC DECRA Fellowship, the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the University of Adelaide.