New Australia-China Centre to explore wine, wheat and wellbeing

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Shopper in Tesco supermarket and mall, Changping, China.
Shopper in Tesco supermarket and mall, Changping, China: the new Australia-China Centre for Agriculture and Health will focus on R&D in grains, wine and healthy products to the benefit of both nations.
C Foulger, Flickr CC

A new cross-continental facility based in Adelaide and Shanghai will help forge closer ties in agricultural research and production, helping both countries meet their national 21st-century food, water and health targets.

In December 2015, a delegation from a leading Chinese university met South Australia’s Chief Scientist, state politicians and senior representatives of The University of Adelaide and its research partners to launch the new Australia-China Centre for Agriculture and Health and an associated research lab.

The new centre, based at The University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus and at leading ‘China 9’ tertiary institution Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), is designed as a shared research and teaching facility. It will foster collaborative research and development on grains, wine, and health and nutrition.

Its focus, states The University of Adelaide, will be on developing new technologies, skills and trading opportunities. Projects will be grouped under four ‘themes:

  • agriculture and wine;
  • land and water;
  • food safety and quality; and
  • health and nutrition.

The centre is part of both countries’ push to meet national food, water and health targets.

Mike Keller, Dean of Waite Campus, told  in December 2015 that the new centre had evolved from a joint Masters degree course in biotechnology established by the two universities in 2010.

“We saw a real opportunity to do something that was unique in making joint academic appointments with China, and this really cements our relationship and gives us an opportunity to collaborate in a fairly unique way,” said Professor Keller.

“What we have here is a very strong complementarity in both expertise and facilities. The Chinese come here to use our plant accelerator, which is unique to any university system in the world, where they can measure the growth and development of plants very precisely.

“And by contrast, they have very high-end biochemical analytic facilities that we don’t have here for studying genomics and metabolomics.”

Joint plant research lab

The Australia-China Research Centre will run in conjunction with a new Joint Laboratory for Plant Science and Breeding. The lab will undertake research aimed at surmounting important food security challenges, including generating more environmentally resilient, productive crops.

Officially launched in December, the lab has been operational since January 2015 and has already published several papers on cereal reproduction.

Customised wine R&D

In the Centre’s initial research project, see wine scientists from The University of Adelaide will collaborate with members of Australia’s wine industry and Shanghai Jiao Tong University to develop wine tailored to the Chinese market.

Already, the project has led to South Australian wine producers Kingston Estate working with China-based Jiangsu King’s Luck Brewery.

Fine Australian wine: one of the new Australia-China Centre's first research projects is to develop an Australian wine tailored to Chinese tastes.
Fine Australian wine: one of the new Australia-China Centre's first research projects is to develop an Australian wine tailored to Chinese tastes.
Paul Arps, Flickr CC, httpswwwflickrcomphotosslapers

Healthy grains research centre

An agreement has also been made to establish a collaborative research centre into the production and evaluation of healthy grains, the aims of which will be to:

  • boost the sustainability of Chinese and Australian agricultural development;
  • develop and produce healthy grain products free of contaminants;
  • assess the market potential for healthier grain products; and
  • work towards improving human health outcomes in both nations.

This, Prof. Keller told Food Navigator, was the catalyst for the participation of Waite Campus, the uni’s agricultural hub, in the joint facility.

“In combination we can start to build collaborations and do things that we couldn’t do alone or in isolation,” he said.

“One of the best ambassadors you have is people who will come to work at the campus, who go back to China and tell people what we have here, what we have on offer. We expect more undergraduates will be coming here as that relationship builds.”

Grain crop, South-East Queensland: The new Australia-China Centre will collaborate on R&D for healthier, environmentally resilient, productive grain crops, including wheat, barley and rice.
The new Australia-China Centre will collaborate on R&D for healthier, environmentally resilient, productive grain crops, including wheat, barley and rice.
Melanie Cook, Flickr CC

Appointments and exchanges

In January 2015, the participating universities jointly appointed distinguished Chinese plant scientist Professor Dabing Zhang to head up the new plant research laboratory. Professor Zhang will divide his time between the Adelaide and Shanghai, where he leads a facility that specialises in genetics and the metabolomics of GM crops.

“[Prof. Zhang] has done some outstanding work in Shanghai with rice, and he has now moved to Australia where he is extending his work to look at barley and wheat as well,” Prof. Keller told Food Navigator.

The universities also appointed a postdoctoral researcher for the lab and, in 2016, two PhD students from Shanghai Jiao Tong University will spend a year at The University of Adelaide in a knowledge exchange program that will be ongoing. Talks are already in progress with the PRC government in regard to establishing PhD scholarships that could mean up to five Shanghai students a year completing doctoral studies at Waite Campus in Adelaide.

Future benefits

The University of Adelaide Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Mike Brooks says the new Australia-China research facility is off to a great start, with significant research projects, wider collaborations across the University and industry, and new trading opportunities already in development or underway.

“Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of Adelaide have a range of mutual research interests and complementary research capabilities,” Professor Brooks says.

“Working together to advance development in these areas of agriculture and wine, natural resources, food and nutrition will enable us to make significant contributions towards healthy populations, food security, clean environments and sustainable industries in both countries.”

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