Postgraduate Profiles

William Thomas

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Thesis: Identifying novel disease resistance genes for canola cultivar improvement

My PhD focusses on identifying and validating new disease resistance genes (R-genes) that help to reduce yield loss in canola (Brassica napus) caused by disease. Several fungal diseases, including the most devastating disease, blackleg, cause serious yield loss to the global canola industry each year. Canola cultivars which carry R-genes that correspond to a specific disease, will be unaffected by the fungus. A combination of disease screening, molecular techniques, genomics and bioinformatics will be used to explore a range of Brassica germplasm, including wild relatives and hybrids, and to identify novel resistance and pinpoint where in the genome the resistance is located. Genotyping and sequencing will be employed to isolate candidate R-genes which will then undergo validation to confirm they are responsible for conferring disease resistance.

Why my research is important

Canola is the second largest oilseed crop produced globally and is the third largest crop grown in Australia. Between 2015 – 2018 Australia produced on average 2.7 million tonnes of canola per year, worth AUD 1.56 billion, the majority of which is internationally exported. Fungal diseases pose a serious threat to the global canola industry by severely reducing yield resulting in huge economic losses. Consequently, there is an urgent need to identify new R-genes which can be incorporated into breeding programs to develop disease resistance cultivars and increase the genetic diversity in cultivar rotation. This will provide more durable and sustainable host resistance, which is the most cost-effective way to manage disease.


(A) Brassica seeds germinating in petri dishes (B) Young canola seedlings growing in a controlled temperature environment (C) The first canola flower produced after 6-weeks of vernalisation

Mar 2020

Mar 2023