Biographies of our students

Lucy Darragh

Lucy is a PhD candidate working with the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science and the ANU Research School of Biology. She is also a member of the Australian Research Council Training Centre for Future Crops Development. With a career in agriculture spanning over 15 years, Lucy has worked in diverse roles with government, industry and the private sector where she has been consistently engaged at the intersection of science, policy, agriculture and the environment. Most recently, Lucy has been involved in operations and stakeholder management, policy research and advocacy roles where she has managed diverse portfolios and provided technical advice on behalf of organisations including, The Australian Farm Institute, Grain Growers, CropLife Australia and Kalyx Australia. Lucy has produced a number of journal articles, industry publications and grower resources, and continues to be involved in capacity and capability building initiatives in the Australian agriculture sector. From paddock to policy, Lucy is as comfortable behind the wheel of a tractor as she is at the desk. Focused on responsible research and innovation (RRI), Lucy’s PhD will explore the claims made about novel technologies. It will move beyond the usual boundaries of public acceptance and perceptions, instead challenging norms established within Australian agricultural and research communities.

Piyumal Demotte

Piyumal joined ANU as a PhD student in computer science and he mainly focused on machine learning for genomics. Previously, Piyumal worked as a machine learning engineer for a few years in causal machine learning. He has experience in deep learning and statistical machine learning for image processing, large language models, and bioinformatics. He will be especially focusing on developing efficient machine-learning techniques for phylogenetics and metagenomics during his research at the Center.

Benjamin Suleman Kurya

Benjamin’s PhD will focus on increasing the efficiency of barley transformation and developing a “one to fit all” protocol to accommodate wider range of Australian elite varieties followed by editing these lines with herbicide tolerant genes. Ben has a background in crop breeding and years of experience working as a research technician at ICRISAT in Nigeria. During his maters degree at the University of Western Australia, Ben investigated herbicide tolerance in wheat by utilising forward breeding approach (Genome wide association + wheat 90K SNP assay) to identify genomic regions controlling metribuzin tolerance in wheat. Ben is passionate about revolutionising crop yield in Africa to record levels through genetic engineering approaches.

Muhammad Arslan Mahmood

Arslan is a PhD student working on fungal disease management, with a focus on Leptosphaeria maculans causing blackleg disease. He has recently joined the Millar group and started working under the supervision of Julian Greenwood. He completed his M.Phil. Biotechnology from National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Pakistan in 2021 and actively engaged there in improving the crops production as a research assistant. Moreover, he completed his Bachelors in plant pathology with a distinction from The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan. He has published research on diversity of cotton leaf curl virus (CLCuV) and its insect-vector, Bemisia tabaci (whitefly) along with several other areas of research including genome editing, RNA interference, etc. His area of research focuses on plant-pathogen interaction and evaluation of plant disease resistance. Arslan will be working on the exploration of blackleg disease resistance mechanism in Canola within the Centre.

Sadia Majeed

An agriculture graduate with passion for research and collaboration, Sadia has just joined ANU as a full time PhD candidate. Previously, she has been actively engaged in agriculture advisory service as an agriculture officer with a focus on improving productivity and sustainability of farm. She completed her Bachelors and Masters in agronomy with distinction from The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan. Her specialisation is plant physiology and biochemistry and has published research on mechanisms responsible for increasing abiotic stress tolerance in crops. She loves to meet new people, explore diverse cultures and travel for learning and fun. Sadia will be working on Canola within the Centre.

Ebtihal Mohamed

Ebtihal will be partnered up with CSIRO and NSW DPI for the duration of her studies. She’ll be working on gene editing canola to increase oil content. Ebtihal just finished her Masters in Horticulture in Sudan. She loves reading and listening to Michael Jackson.

Matt Mortimer

Matt is from ANU and is in his second year of his PhD leveraging molecular evolutionary techniques to better understand and engineer plant enzymes. His primary focus is on the drought sensing enzyme SAL1, and nitrate reductase. Matt seeks to engineer nitrate reductase to break down toxic chemicals to allow plants to grow on Mars. He wants to generate interest in GMOs and show how they can help address some of the most pressing issues here on Earth!

Samuel James Nix

James is a first year PhD student in the Furbank lab studying C4 photosynthesis. His interests are in electron transfer within the photosystems, specifically cyclic electron flow (CEF) that occurs between Photosystem I and the Cytochrome b6f Complex via the poorly understood PGR5/PGRL1 pathway. One of the goals of his project is to explore cell specific expression of two PGRL1 homologs that occurs in important crop plant such as Maize, Sorghum, and Sugarcane. Elucidating PGR5/PGRL1 CEF in these important crops may lead to improved yields and may also help with introducing the C4 metabolic pathway into Rice as a part of the C4 Rice Project.

Reshma Roy

Reshma started her Ph. D with Tony Millar in September 2022 and is working to develop transformation and gene-editing technologies in Brassica carinata. She completed her Bachelor’s in Agricultural biotechnology at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. As an undergraduate, her research focused on the various aspects of plant genetic engineering, bioinformatics etc. Afterwards, she completed her master’s in molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad. Her master’s was focused on two main objectives: a) Designing of guide RNAs, b) Construction and validation of CRISPR/Cas vector targeting the Rep gene of Chilli leaf curl virus. Her research was supported by Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Ministry of Science and Technology, India and was also the Valedictorian for the faculty of Agricultural Sciences. Her research during master’s put in front of her a lot of questions that drove her crazy and curious about molecular biology which is why she is here at ANU. Reshma is so excited to engage in her research which is a partnership between academia and industry. Out of science, she is more passionate about dance, driving and travelling.

Alex Seward

Hi guys, I’m Alex – I’m a newbie to Australia, having lived all my life in the UK before moving to Adelaide about a month ago. My upcoming research will focus on investigating the salinity tolerance of wheat in the face of increasingly hostile environmental conditions. I’ll be looking to uncover the mechanisms behind salinity tolerance, and exploring the extent to which wheat yield can be improved in dryland environments by increasing sodium accumulation in leaves and shoots. In my free time, I love playing hockey, cooking, and binge-watching unhealthy amounts of TV shows! I also love to travel, and have hopes of setting foot on every continent. I can’t wait to meet everyone and get more involved in the centre!

Hiu Lam (Rita) Tam

Rita is a PhD student working on fungal genomics using diverse bioinformatic approaches, with a focus on wheat stripe rust pathogen. In her first year, her work will span genome assembly, functional and comparative genomics to study its virulence evolution. Having contributed to the ACT SARS-CoV2 genomic surveillance in 2022, Rita is motivated to transfer the methods she has learnt to this fungal pathogen. She will employ the latest molecular and computational genomic technologies to enable better fungal pathogen diagnostics. In her down time, Rita enjoys playing story-driven video games, motorcycling and playing with her neighbour’s cat.

Amy Tristam

Amy has a strong interest in Plant Science after being mentored by the Byrt Lab during several research projects during her undergrad. As a result, she is beginning her Honours in the Byrt Lab and will be focusing on salt and water transport through mangrove aquaporin genes as novel salt tolerant strategies. Amy is grateful for the Honours Scholarship support and is excited to be part of the Training Centre this year. In her free time, Amy is an avid cyclist, swimmer, and bushwalker.

Hong Ting (Natalie) Tsang

Natalie is from ANU in her second year of PhD aiming to build a synbio toolbox for artificial retrograde signalling circuit. Her project’s focus is on the retrograde signal H2O2, through studying the targets and effects of chloroplast- sourced H2O2, the knowledge obtained will provide insights for the ways to manipulate this signal for improving plant’s stress responses for increased yield and stress resilience.

Ruonan Wang

Ruonan is interested in studying the gene function of wheat during her study at the Centre. Her PhD research work was based on multiomics techniques to analyse the physiological and molecular mechanisms of wheat response to phosphorus deficiency.

Christina Wenzl

Chris is undertaking a PhD within the Training Centre, based in Adelaide. Originally, Chris is from Austria, but she’s spent the past 4 ½ years living and studying in Nagoya, Japan. Chris’ research in Japan was on the vegetarian and vegan movement and how identity is constructed around these dietary lifestyles. Aside from food, Chris is passionate about different kinds of arts and crafts and is falling in love with the birds in Australia. “I am very excited to be working together with you. If you have any questions (academic or personal), feel free to contact me :)”

Ava Wilkinson

Ava has moved to Adelaide from New Zealand to pursue her PhD journey with the University of Adelaide. As part of the Adelaide Business School, she will be researching Market-Shaping phenomena within the Future Crops space. She will be focusing on how to shape sustainable markets and how the Training Centre can shape it’s market through collective actor engagement. Previously, Ava has completed her Bachelors and Honours Degrees at Auckland University of Technology in International Business. Her research projects were on ‘Shaping the Organic Wine Market’ and a ‘Market Shaping Across National Borders – A Theory Synthesis’. In her free-time, Ava enjoys travelling and exploring new places. She also enjoys trying out the incredible wines Adelaide has to offer with friends. 

Russell Woodford

Russell is continuing his studies at the ANU through an Honours year with the Centre. Russell is passionate about all things plant science related, though his project will focus on studying the molecular mechanisms of C4 photosynthesis. Russell has recently joined the Centre under the supervision of Chief Investigator Prof Robert Furbank and is looking forward to getting to know everyone involved in the Centre.

Yiting Xie

After completing his Master of Science at the University of Adelaide, Yiting pursued a PhD at the same institution, conducting research at the Plant Accelerator, the Adelaide branch of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility situated on the Waite campus. Yiting’s research interests lie in the fields of machine vision and machine learning, with a particular emphasis on deep learning applications for imaging-based plant phenotyping in the context of precision agriculture.
Yiting’s ongoing research project focuses on the development of an efficient, accurate, and cost-effective image-based crop anthesis prediction method for wheat, barley, and canola in genetically modified field trials. This method aims to reduce field flowering inspection costs associated with genetically modified field trials while also streamlining regulatory compliance processes. In addition to his academic pursuits, Yiting is passionate about plant photography, taking pleasure in capturing the intricate details and beauty of plants from various angles.

Rose Zhang

The Training Centre has supported Rose to complete the last part of her Honours project. During her studies, she’s been working on characterising aquaporins in legumes and using a mix of literature and assays to work out what they do. Rose enjoys the sense of community and opportunities to participate in academic and non-academic networking, collaborations and training that come with being Centre supported. In her downtime you’ll find Rose cuddling up to one of her two shingleback lizards, playing boardgames with friends or hanging out with her pet rabbit.


The ARC Training Centre for Accelerated Future Crops Development is funded by the Australian Research Council under its Industrial Transformation Training Hubs Program to run from 2022 to 2027.

It is a collaboration of universities, government research agencies and the Australian grains sector’s key stakeholders in training, R&D, social engagement, responsible innovation, breeding, marketing and delivery.

It also has international partners in gene-editing, SynBio, crop breeding, and, other partnerships for co-developing deep technologies to transform the agriculture industry and global food security.