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Effective virus management in grain crops

Project summary

St Lucia
Research area
Agricultural, veterinary and food sciences

Project description

We are looking for domestic (Australia and New Zealand) PhD applicants passionate about applied plant virology research in cereal grain crops.

This project aims to investigate the effectiveness of RNA-based sprays as a potential control strategy for BYDV (wheat and barley), TuYV (canola and pulses) and their aphid vectors to reduce viral load in planta and quantify the associated reduction in yield loss following application pre- and post-infection. Working closely with partners at DPIRD, Macquarie University and DAF QLD, this project will accelerate the translation of RNAi-based biopesticide applications as novel viricides to Australian grains industries.

Specific objectives of the project are:

  1. Design and synthesis of RNAi effector molecules (dsRNA) able to selectively target viruses and insects with minimal impacts to beneficial species via a proprietary bioinformatics pipeline, modern molecular engineering technologies and high-density bioreactor production methods.
  2. Delivery of proof-of-concept RNAi experiments transitioned from glasshouse to field trials showing effective reduction in virus transmission, infection incidence and yield losses in wheat and barley due to infection with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) and Turnip Yellow Virus (TuYV) in canola and lentil crops.
  3. Contribute to the development of comprehensive extension packages to inform partners, the public and end users about project aims, progress, ultimate uses, and forward-thinking support for transformative research into RNAi-based crop protection undertaken by GRDC.

The anticipated outcomes from the study include new knowledge and understanding regarding the physical, mechanistic and functional aspects of RNAi-based sprays for virus infection mitigation in grains crops.

Research environment

The University of Queensland (UQ) is one of Australia's premier higher education institutions, and a research-intensive university ranked in the top 1% of universities globally. UQ tops key indicators in the 2018 Excellence in Research for Australia reports with ratings of 5 (well above world standard) obtained for plant biology, agriculture, horticulture and nanotechnology. The extended research capacity amassed in the proposal includes the UQ institutes; Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), the School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences (SCMB) and the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) hosting an outstanding world-class team of biotechnologists, entomologists and material scientists. The GRDC Project will also have access to world-class facilities and expertise at UQ AIBN, which is a state-of-the-art research institute with access to analytical instrumentation, SEM, TEM, confocal microscopy and with X-ray analysis capacity, UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (SCMB), School of Agriculture and Food Sciences (SAFS). The GRDC project aligns with the UQ strategic plan (2018 – 2021) and complements UQ’s strategic research areas and existing strengths in biotechnology and agriculture. In this regard, UQ topped key indicators in the 2018 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) reports with ratings of 5 (well above world standard) for plant biology, horticultural production, nanotechnology and political science.

QAAFI (UQ) is a world-class institute established in 2010 to connect the capabilities of UQ and the Queensland State Government. QAAFI combines more than 100 multi-disciplinary researchers from across the plant, animal, and food sciences. Working in alliance with the Queensland Government, the institute pursues sustainable agriculture and food through science and innovation with local, national, and international collaborators in modern PC2 molecular biology facility with growth cabinets and ready access to field, glasshouse, and state-of-the-art plant growth facilities. The GRDC project also strongly aligns with QAAFI’s vision to deliver sustainable agriculture for the subtropics.


This is an Earmarked scholarship project that aligns with a recently awarded Australian Government grant.

The scholarship includes:

  • living stipend of $33,641 per annum tax free (2024 rate), indexed annually
  • your tuition fees covered
  • single overseas student health cover (OSHC).

Learn more about the Earmarked scholarship.


You must contact the principal supervisor for this project to discuss your interest. You should only complete the online application after you have reached agreement on supervision.

Always make sure you are approaching your potential supervisor in a professional way. We have provided some guidelines for you on how to contact a supervisor.

Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your:

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of plant virology, entomology, grains industry, field trials, molecular biology and bioreactor processing would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

You will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of plant virology and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of microbiology and bioreactor processing is highly desirable.

How to apply

This project requires candidates to commence no later than Research Quarter 1, 2025. To allow time for your application to be processed, we recommend applying no later than 30 September, 2024 30 June, 2024.

You can start in an earlier research quarter. See application dates.

Before you apply

  1. Check your eligibility for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
  2. Prepare your documentation.
  3. Contact Dr Karl Robinson ( to discuss your interest and suitability.

When you apply

You apply for this scholarship when you submit an application for a PhD. You don’t need to submit a separate scholarship application.

In your application ensure that under the ‘Scholarships and collaborative study’ section you select:

  • My higher degree is not collaborative
  • I am applying for, or have been awarded a scholarship or sponsorship
  • UQ Earmarked Scholarship type.

Apply now