Understanding a killer disease

Thu, 29 Mar 2012 16:11:00 +1100

Deakin University PhD candidate Dean Phillips has been awarded a $22,000 grant to support his research into ways of controlling the devastating plant disease Phytophthora, a pathogen best known for causing the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, and Dieback, which kills many Australian native plants.

Dean Phillips received the Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) Award for his research into ‘curing Phytophthora plant diseases by targeting a genetic missing link’ as part of this year’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, presented the awards at a gala dinner in Canberra recently.

Associate Professor Peter Beech, from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Burwood and Dean's PhD supervisor, describes Dean's work as potentially of great importance in the search for a cure for Phytophthora.

"This is a wonderful example of a student using novel methods - which he has largely developed himself - to open a window to future control of this very widespread pathogen," said Associate Professor Beech.

"Phytophthora not only decimates our native flora, but it is responsible for billions of dollars in crop losses around the world each year.

"I also love that this is a truly cross-campus effort, with Dean having worked closely with our ever-generous colleagues in Life and Environmental Sciences at Geelong: most notably Professor Dave Cahill's (Dean's co-supervisor) plant pathogen group, and the chemists Gail Dyson, Xavier Conlan and Luke Henderson.

"Dean's award from HAL is a great recognition of his and others' efforts and the potential of the work."

Dean Phillips - who also did his undergraduate degree at Deakin in Environmental Management - plans to use 'cutting-edge technology' to develop targeted antibiotics to control the Phytophthora pathogen. His current research builds on his earlier discovery of a protein unique to Phytophthora.

"I have always been intrigued by the idea of using molecular techniques more commonly associated with medical science to solve our most pressing environmental problems," he said.

"I am hopeful that this research will result in a cure for this devastating disease."


ABARES Chief Scientist, Dr Kim Ritman (left) Dean Phillips and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig.
ABARES Chief Scientist, Dr Kim Ritman (left) Dean Phillips and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig.
Showcase facts
  • Phytophthora is a pathogen best known for causing the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, and also Dieback, which kills many Australian native plants.
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20th August 2012