Caitlin Byrt

It is an exciting time for innovative plant science investigators!

To create a future you can look forward to we need to upgrade our crop plant resources. Upgrading crops to improve productivity and adapt to environmental stresses, such as extreme climatic conditions, is key to our future food security and quality of life.

My research involves modifying the function of plant membrane and solute transport mechanisms, and using these mechanisms to improve plant resistance to environmental stress and to enhance crop yields.

Our team is currently focused on studying 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. When plants experience salt or water stress, and when plant cells expand during growth, they must rapidly adjust water and solute transport across their membranes, and water channel proteins play critical roles in this adjustment. We discovered that some plant water channels can transport salt and nutrient ions and we are using this information to figure out how salt and drought tolerant plants control this mechanism to help them maintain growth in challenging environmental conditions.

One of the most fun activities in scientific research and teaching is getting together with team mates and brainstorming then testing new ideas for how to engineer plants to improve productivity.

The purpose designed plants of the future will present us with the opportunity to improve human health and nutrition; retrieve carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into food and renewable raw materials for energy and biochemical production; and enable us to produce specialised raw materials for manufacturing industries.

Within the plant kingdom we have access to species that have evolved traits enabling them to adapt to extreme environments and species that naturally produce very valuable raw materials. Every day we come a step closer to having all the necessary tools and understanding of plant biology that is needed to enable us to mix and match together optimised plant quality and productivity traits towards supporting a sustainable and prosperous future. It is an exciting time for innovative plant science investigators!