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Avocado research set to smash global shortage

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Avocado lovers can rest easy knowing that Queensland-based PhD student Jayeni Hiti Bandaralage has discovered a micropropagation method set to revolutionise plant supply. Having completed an Honours Degree in Plant Biotechnology, Jayeni is pursuing a PhD through the University of Queensland at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.

Why biotechnology?

Having grown up in Sri Lanka, a country with an agriculture-based economy, I wanted to apply my knowledge in science and technology to improve agriculture. By focussing on research that can be translated to the plant industry, I saw that I could have a positive impact and hopefully make discoveries to help feed the world.

Why did you choose avocado propagation?

Clonal avocado propagation is a major issue for the expansion of the Australian avocado industry. Australian farmers currently have to wait two years to get their plants, as the industry still depends on a 40 year old propagation method which takes nearly 18 months to produce a single plant, from a single cutting. So a better avocado plant propagation system is essential to boost the avocado industry.

What makes your method different?

My PhD research has pioneered a new micropropagation technique that uses a tissue-culture system to produce 500 plants, from a single cutting of an elite mature avocado plant. This process takes about 10 months and the plants produced are completely disease free. Plus this system has no dependencies on seeds, the growing season or grafting season, so year round production is possible. This is the world’s first high throughput micropropagation system for avocados.

What’s the future of this game changing technique?

Field evaluation of these plants is underway and my dream is to have this technique in the market in five years. This UQ owned technology will be commercialised to revolutionise the avocado industry in Australia – and on a global scale. This technology has the potential to relieve the global shortage of avocado trees by meeting plant demand. With the very large Asian export market on our doorstep, this technique will allow Queensland farmers to double their production in the near future.

What does your research involve?

I undertake an immense amount of lab work to optimise all stages of this propagation pipeline, in addition to reading and writing. I experiment with different techniques and growth conditions in the lab and also make frequent field visits to gather data. During my PhD I have grown more than 25,000 plants! I love plants!!

How would you use the travel grant?

If I secure this travel grant I will attend The International Association for Plant Biotechnology Congress to be held in Ireland in August, 2018 and the 2018 World Avocado Brainstorm Meeting, which is a gathering of scientists from avocado growing countries around the globe. It will be an invaluable opportunity to find collaborative links with other world leading scientists in biotechnology related disciplines to support my career development.

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