Program 3b: SynBio applications to improve quality traits, yield and productivity of major Australian crop species

Applying new genetic and gene editing technologies to increase yield, resilience and nutritional value of major crops

Image © Charles Tambiah

University Investigators:

Potential Partners and Institutions for Placements:

Contact: Deputy Director Caitlin Byrt

Overview: We will develop future crops that are more resilient, better-quality and higher-yielding to drive long-term profitability.

The Programs

(Lannon Harley/ANU).

Program 3.4 – Improving Yield (ANU)

Our projects will increase yield in wheat, barley, chickpea and canola by increasing photosynthesis, energy use efficiency and growth.

For example, a reduction in photosynthesis during canola flowering can result in ~40% loss in oil content, costing $400M.

Second, improving canola’s acid soil tolerance will expand the area of cultivation which may lift production by 15% or $107M/year.  

Program 3.5 – Resilience: Reducing the gap between actual and potential grain yield (ANU)

We will develop crops with improved root architecture, salinity and drought tolerance. A bad drought will decrease national yields by 50%, which is $3.3B for wheat, meaning there are potential gains of hundreds of millions by increasing yields by 5-10%. Minimise the impact of frost on grain yield and stability of grains. Cold stress during flower and pod development can result in up to 40% yield losses.

Cold-tolerant varieties will provide growers with more rotation options that will increase profitability. Ascochyta blight (AB) costs ~$40M annually, with chickpea losses ranging from 40% to 100%. Increased resistance will increase growers’ productivity and profitability.

Image © Charles Tambiah

Program 3.6 – Quality: Maintain and/or improve the price of Australian Grain through healthier and higher value grains (ANU)

Rising demand for plant-based proteins is an opportunity for our industry. By 2030, the value of such proteins is forecast to be $7B. Premium protein content will give us access to new export markets.

Secondly, the barley industry has revenue of ~$2B and a malt barley export value of ~$450M. Currently, breeders, growers and maltsters lack insight on how genotype and environment affect quality, which increases development and accreditation costs, and risks a smaller market share.  

Glutens and proteins are pivotal to the quality of most cereal-based products. Increasing gluten functionality can preserve the value of lower-protein wheat (that may otherwise be downgraded, cutting revenue) and help avoid the yield-protein concentration trade-off.  


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.