Dream to transform economy grows roots at UWA

06/06/2022 | 2 mins

By applying the knowledge of crop disease resistance that he gained at The University of Western Australia, Dr Azam Khan is determined to boost his home country Pakistan’s economy.

Dr Khan recently completed his PhD project, which identified genetic resistance to the fungal pathogen Sclerotinia Sclerotiorum in canola.

“My research aims to improve oilseeds’ plant health and oil quality,” he said.

“Yield can be rescued from devastating pathogens through continuous research and development of crop disease resistance.”

UWA PhD graduate Azam Khan with his canola experiments.Image: UWA PhD graduate Azam Khan with his canola experiments.

Dr Khan was among 20 outstanding students from The University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF) to receive a UWA-UAF joint scholarship (initiated by The UWA Institute of Agriculture) to complete their PhD studies at UWA since 2009.

The scholarship program is part of the long-standing collaboration and Memorandum of Understanding between the two universities.

By improving the cultivation of oilseeds in Pakistan, Dr Khan plans to reduce the “huge gap” between supply and demand of edible oil.

“From July to March last year, 2.917 million tonnes of edible oil was imported into Pakistan,” he said.

“Local production of edible oil during this period is estimated at almost one-tenth of this amount, just 0.374 million tonnes.

“By improving oilseed crop yield in Pakistan, I hope to significantly reduce this huge import bill and contribute to strengthening the national economy.”

Dr Khan completed his postgraduate studies under the guidance of UWA supervisors Professor Martin Barbetti, Professor Wallace Cowling, Professor Jacqueline Batley and Dr Mingpei You.

After almost five years and publishing three research papers, Dr Khan returned home to Pakistan in December.

“I enjoyed working with a diverse team of plant pathologists, plant breeders and molecular biologists,” he said.

“This cross-disciplinary team helped me develop skills for data analysis and interpreting it using different perspectives.”

Dr Khan described the skills and confidence he gained in Australia as “invaluable” to his current role as Assistant Professor at UAF.

“I am educating and training youth for enhancing agriculture productivity by focusing on plant health, yield, and quality of seed and product,” he said.

“When I first arrived in 2017, I was unsure of data handling and high impact scientific writing.

“Now, I feel like a motivated new researcher. I am more confident in project planning and execution than before. My experience at UWA also enabled me to look forward to international collaboration for the wider benefit of agriculture and the country.”

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