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$31 million biotech center to benefit crops, food, energy

Crop and food industries will benefit from a new $31 million biotechnology Center of Excellence to be headquartered at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus.

The University has today been awarded $19.25 million in federal funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC), with an additional $12 million of support from partner institutions.

The University's new ARC Center of Excellence in Plant Cell Wall Biology will build an international team of researchers with strong industry links.

Their research will significantly enhance biotechnologies that underpin crop industries, associated food industries, and emerging industries related to renewable transport fuels and biomaterials.

The Center of Excellence will be led by the University of Adelaide and involves collaboration with the universities of Melbourne and Queensland, and with major research institutions and industry partners in Australia, Scotland, Sweden, Germany and the United States.

The Director of the new Center of Excellence is Professor Geoff Fincher, who has many years of experience in agricultural and biotechnology research.

"Plant cell walls contain components that are of major interest for renewable energy production, for the food industry, and for the pulp and paper industries," Professor Fincher says.

"Once the plant has died, most of what is left is material from the cell walls. So there are opportunities to utilize this material in new ways and to add further value to crop industries.

"The central role of plant cell walls as renewable sources of transport fuels, as new food products, and as a source of raw materials for industrial processes is a huge driver for international research.

"When one considers that about 180 billion tonnes of the cell wall component, cellulose, is renewed on earth every year, it is not surprising that this part of the plant is attracting attention for renewable fuel production. Because humans cannot digest cellulose, the production of cellulosic residues for biofuels does not compete for human food production."

University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President Professor James McWha says the new ARC Center of Excellence builds on the unique, collaborative research strengths in agriculture and biotechnology at the Waite Campus.

"This world-class center will be the focal point for the development of new technologies and processes. It will play a key role in enhancing the University's reputation for agricultural research and training, and it will boost our already significant contribution to industry and the community," Professor McWha says.

The University of Adelaide is a key partner in the ARC Center of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Tera-Scale and the ARC Center of Excellence for the History of Emotions, which were also announced today.


Contact: Professor Geoff Fincher
University of Adelaide

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