Robert Furbank

Professor Robert (Bob) Furbank

Chief Investigator, ARC Training Centre for Future Crops Development

Group Leader, Division of Plant Science, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

2019 Phenomobile CSIRO APPF & Bob Furbank

Areas of Research Interest –

Multiscale or “systems” plant biology, focusing on improvement of photosynthetic performance, carbon partitioning and yield in grain crops.
My research spans from gene discovery to plant growth and field photosynthetic performance and from synthetic biology and metabolic engineering to global remote sensing and Phenomics of agricultural crops.
My research goal is the exploration and improvement of plant performance from the leaf to the field.

Expertise & Skills –

  • Molecular physiology, synthetic biology and pathway engineering for photosynthetic improvement of both C3 and C4 crops and model species.
  • Rice (C3) and Setaria transformation (C4)
  • Golden Gate cloning and the use of orthogonal synthetic promoters and transcription factors to drive multigene, transgene expression in crops.
  • High throughput proximal and remote sensing tool development for plant phenomics including deep learning modelling of leaf hyperspectral reflectance data, canopy thermal imaging, Lidar systems, and satellite remote sensing of crops.   

5 Key Research Papers –

• Furbank RT, Silva-Perez V, Evans JR, Condon AG, Estavillo GM, He W, Newman S, Poiré R, Hall A, He Z. (2021) Wheat physiology predictor: predicting physiological traits in wheat from hyperspectral reflectance measurements using deep learning. Plant methods17:1-5.
• Newman SJ, Furbank RT (2021) Explainable machine learning models of major crop traits from satellite-monitored continent-wide field trial data. Nature Plants 7: 1354-1363.
• Ermakova, M., Arrivault, S., Giuliani, R., Danila, F., Alonso‐Cantabrana, H., Vlad, D., Ishihara, H., Feil, R., Guenther, M., Borghi, G. L., Covshoff, S., Ludwig, M., Cousins, A. B., Langdale, J. A., Kelly, S., Lunn, J. E., Stitt, M., Caemmerer, S., & Furbank, RT (2020). Installation of C4 photosynthetic pathway enzymes in rice using a single construct. Plant Biotechnology Journal 19: 575-588
• Silva-Pérez V, De Faveri J, Molero G, Deery DM, Condon AG, Reynolds MP, Evans JR, Furbank RT. (2019) Genetic variation for photosynthetic capacity and efficiency in spring wheat. Journal of Experimental Botany
• Ermakova M, Lopez-Calcagno P, Raines CA, Furbank RT & von Caemmerer S (2019) Overexpression of the Rieske FeS protein of the Cytochrome b6f complex increases C4 photosynthesis in Setaria viridis..Nature Communications Biology 2:314

Available Research Projects –

• Over-expression of key photosynthetic proteins in Canola and the effects on photosynthesis and growth
• Allelic variation in coding sequences of photosynthetic proteins in wheat germplasm and the link to agronomic and physiological traits
• Improving C4 photosynthesis in the C4 model plant Setaria viridis and the crop Sorghum using a synthetic biology toolkit.
• Exploring genetic variation in leaf and pod photosynthesis in Canola germplasm collections and the underpinning genetic architecture.


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.