Owen Atkin

Professor Owen Atkin

Chief Investigator, ARC Training Centre for Future Crops Development

Director, Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology, ANU; and, Professsor of Plant Ecophysiology, Division of Plant Sciences, RSB, Australian National University

Owen Atkin

Areas of Research Interest –

The importance of plant respiration in determining the scale and magnitude of future global environmental change is a major focus of the Atkin lab’s research. With others, we aim to quantify the climate dependence respiration, and determine the impact of variations in respiration on rates of net carbon uptake in a range of contrasting ecosystems over wide spatial and temporal scales.
The impacts of nutrient gradients and variations in water availability on plant respiration and related plant metabolic pathways are being assessed. As part of this work, we are combining laboratory and field observations to establish if there are systematic patterns in how plant respiration responds to environmental gradients, and to establish the underlying factors responsible for genotypic differences in nutrient use efficiency.
We are also working with modellers to improve the representation of plant respiration in global climate-vegetation models, and are investigating the physiological and biochemical basis of thermal acclimation of respiration to long-term changes in temperature. Finally, the consequences of systemic temperature signaling for plant functioning is being addressed.

Expertise & Skills –

As CEAT Director: strategic planning, industry engagement
As a researcher: Plant physiology, plant gas exchange, abiotic stress responses of plants, respiration, photosynthesis, development of high throughput phenotyping tools.

5 Key Research Papers –

• Scafaro, A., Fan, Y., Posch, B., Garcia, A., Coast, O. and Atkin, O.K. (2021). Responses of leaf respiration to heatwaves. Plant, Cell & Environment Early view https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.14018
• Reynolds, M., Atkin, O.K., Bennett, M., Cooper, M., Dodd, I.C., Foulkes, M.J., Frohberg, C., Hammer, G., Henderson, I.R., Huang, B., Korzun, V., McCouch, S.R., Messina, C.D., Pogson, B.J., Slafer, G., Taylor, N.L. and Wittich, P.E. (2021). Addressing research bottlenecks to crop productivity. Trends in Plant Science 26: 607-630.
• Coast, O., Shah, S., Ivakov, A., Gaju, O., Wilson, P., Posch, B.C., Bryant, C., Alves Negrini, A.C., Evans, J.R.,Condon, A.G., Silva-Pérez, V., Reynolds, M.P., Pogson, B.J., Millar, A.H., Furbank, R.T. & Atkin, O.K. (2019). Predicting dark respiration rate of wheat leaves from hyperspectral reflectance. Plant, Cell & Environment 42: 2133-2150
• O’Leary, B.M., Asao, S., Millar, A.H. and Atkin, O.K. (2019). Core principles which explain variation in respiration across biological scales. New Phytologist 222(2): 670-686
• Huntingford, C., Atkin, O.K., Heskel, M.A., Martinez-de la Torre, A., Harper, A.B., Bloomfield, K.J., Mercado, L.M., O’Sullivan, O.S., Reich, P.B., Wythers, K.R., Butler, E.E., Chen, M., Clark, D., Griffin K.L., Meir, P., Tjoelker, M.G., Turnbull, M.H., Sitch, S., Williams, K. and Mahli, Y. (2017). Implications of improved representation of plant respiration in a changing climate. Nature Communications 8, 1602. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01774-z

Available Research Projects –

Respiratory energy use efficiency in crops. Although we know that climate can substantially alter rates of plant respiration, little is known about the cellular and organelle-level modifications that underpin climate-dependent changes in respiration rates in crops, or how environment alters the efficiency of respiratory metabolism.
Projects are available that combine laboratory and field experiments to establish a process-based understanding of mitochondrial and intact tissue respiratory responses of crops to drought and global warming scenarios.


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.