Postgraduate Profiles

Toby Bird

Toby Bird profile photo

Thesis: Molecular and Biochemical Characterization of Cluster-Root Development and Phosphorus Acquisition in the Phosphorus-Efficient Hakea prostrata (Proteaceae)

Hakea prostrata is of the Proteaceae family of plants, a clade which has high species presence among the nutrient-deplete region of south-western Australia. In response to this environment, much of the flora, particularly of the Proteaceae family, have evolved a specialised trait known as cluster-roots (CR). This short-lived root trait greatly increases phosphorus (P) acquisition, by both enabling the mobilization of previously soil bound P, and by providing an enhanced morphology for uptake. This project aims to increase our understanding of P acquisition in this very P-efficient species of H. prostrata. I will use a recently assembled genome of this species to analyse gene families involved in P transport and signalling. I will then focus on the development of the CR in H. prostrata, using a series of ‘omics’ approaches. Information from each determined CR developmental stage will be compiled based on transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic discovery techniques.

Why my research is important

By investigating cluster-root development using a series of ‘omics’ approaches, I can start to determine the flow of genetic and molecular information that may be unique to these root systems. These approaches should also indicate and uncover important cellular processes regarding Phosphorus acquisition and utilisation. All new knowledge regarding cluster-root development, as well as Phosphorus acquisition and utilisation may be essential concerning conservation efforts in the south-west region of Australia. This information also holds considerable potential regarding the breeding and development of P-efficient crop species.


Clockwise from top left: A) Hakea prostrata seedlings growing in root-cooling tanks, B) Cluster-roots growing along the lateral roots of H. prostrata, C) Cluster–roots at different ages of development in H. prostrata, D) H. prostrata branch in flower.

Sep 2018