University of Melbourne : Careers Guide 2012
FEEDING THE FUTURE Shutterstock India’s economy is rocketing along, but the world’s second most populous nation still faces the age-old problem of feeding its people. Research from Australia will bring exciting changes to this battle which are sure to strengthen the India–Australia relationship deep into the future. “India is the world’s largest grower and consumer of cauliflower and cabbage, and cauliflower in particular is a major dietary item for a billion people,” says adjunct Associate Professor Derek Russell from the University of Melbourne’s School of Land and Environment. “About a third of the national crop is lost to insect pests despite about 30% of the total costs of producing the crop being spent on buying and applying insecticides,” he explains. A/ Prof. Russell leads a collaborative research project, Crop Plants Which Remove Their Own Major Biotic Constraints, which aims to produce plants that control pests without the need for pesticides. (‘Biotic constraints’ is the more formal term for pests.) “ This technology has the capacity to remove all that expenditure and human and environmental health impact and greatly reduce the price of these key foods in this significantly vegetarian country,” says A/ Prof Russell. Less peSTs, more Food Want to feed a billion people? You can play your part through studies in genetics and food science. » SuAnnOng » Bachelor of Food Science (Honours) » R&D packaging technician, Mars Chocolate Australia “ I studied Food Science because it made me realise how important food is in our lives. We consume it every day but rarely think about how it is made or how it arrives at our plate. “Chocolate has always been a big part of my life, so it turned out that many of my assignments during the course were based on chocolate. “At the University of Melbourne I was also able to study subjects out of my field such as supply chain management, product and brand management and public relations, which helped me have a better understanding of the different aspects of the business. “One part of my work is ensuring the databases and systems we use are maintained and kept up- to-date to ensure that each packaging transition in the factory operates seamlessly. “ The other half of my job allows my creative juices to flow – I develop new ways for our consumers to enjoy our products. At the same time, I also work on improving efficiency in other areas of the business such as logistics and supply. “Currently, there is a big push in our society for the use of sustainable packaging, so I review our current formats and research new materials that are environmentally friendly. Once in a while, as a trained sensory panellist, I take part in sensory testing for cocoa liquors, cocoa butters and new chocolate recipes, which is always a highlight of my job.” Research with a similar aim, assisted through funding from the Australia–India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF), will genetically improve chickpeas in order to give them protection against pod borer, a major chickpea field pest, and this will greatly reduce the need for chemical insecticides. We tend to think of grains such as rice, wheat and maize, and legumes such as peas and beans, when we think of global food security, but the World Health Organisation is heavily promoting vegetables and their oils as important in healthy diets across the planet. The Genetics Department at the University of Melbourne will take the lead in developing and testing the genetic constructs which will provide novel resistance to aphids. The Department of Food and Agriculture Systems will then introduce the genes into canola and test them against key pests. Russell says this type of protection can have a major impact on canola crops in Australia – and Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter of canola, the world’s third- largest source of vegetable oil. “Insect control in canola is a key element in the costs of production, but insect attacks are sporadic and unpredictable, so this technology can remove the need for costly monitoring and control of the key pests and reduce the environmental footprint of the crop.” If successful, the plan is to then transfer this knowledge for use in wheat and other crops, which could completely change the cost and methods of aphid control worldwide.