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Murdoch University gives PhD students opportunity to study grains issues

Yanan Hao, left, Yanying An, Xue Dong and Litao Sun inspecting stored grain pests at Murdoch University, in Western Australia, where they are participating in PhD studies.
Photo: GRDC

Four PhD candidates have started studying wide-ranging grains topics at WA university.

In 2019, four new PhD candidates took up studies at the Western Australian-based Murdoch University's Post Harvest Biosecurity and Food Safety Laboratory.

All four completed their undergraduate studies in China before starting at Murdoch University.

Their current research covers topics include:

  • post-harvest grain storage;
  • the nutritional value of lupins; and
  • soil microbial effects on the nutrition of crops.

This year's crop

PhD student Yanying An's researchis investigating how to enhance the quality of delivered grain after harvest at points of receival and loading for export.

She is looking at using advanced techniques such as hyper-spectral imaging, coupled with deep learning - a development in artificial intelligence, to detect insects and weed seeds when moving grain, such as along a conveyor belt.

Currently, Yanying is helping a fellow PhD student take pictures of dead insects to help build a computer image of them for detection. The challenge will then be to incorporate detection when taking pictures of live insects.

Xue Dong is studying the effect of ozone (O3) gas on grain seed physiology and nutrition.

Ozone is being assessed as an alternative fumigant to phosphine. It has potential advantages over phosphine, as it rapidly decomposes - so there are fewer residue issues - and can be considered an organic option, as it occurs naturally. Depending on dosage, it may also promote the germination of seeds.

An assessment of changes in the seed exposed to ozone treatment in combination with genetics and environmental factors influencing the grain is required to decide whether ozone affects germinability.

Yanan Hao is evaluating the nutritional value of lupins for human consumption.

While lupins have long been used in the livestock industry, a growing global human population and the need for quality protein sources is driving an increasing interest in lupins as a human food source.

Previous studies in animals have also shown benefits related to improving disease resistance.

Currently, Yanan is using analytical equipment to identify different compounds in lupins. Foundational work will help answer the question of whether these compounds could build disease resistance in humans.

Litao Sun's PhD studies are a continuation of his previous work investigating soil nutrition factors influencing the quality of tea, with a focus on the interaction between compounds secreted by plant roots and soil microorganisms.

Currently, he is working to identify specific compounds secreted by plants and their influence on recruiting soil microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi, to see how they may be of benefit to the crop.

This information could be used, for example, to improve the efficacy of fertilisers by culturing beneficial organisms which could be applied to the crop to enhance uptake of soil nutrients.

More information: Manjree Agarwal, Murdoch University, 08 9360 2981,

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