Some like it hot: ARC funding to turn up the heat on Indian mustard seeds

Published 20 June 2018
Mustard plant Examining a mustard plant in the Southern Cross Plant Science labs is PhD candidate Priyakshee Borpatra Gohain.

Increasing the heat potency of Indian mustard seeds, which when distilled in Australia forms a high value export commodity to countries including Japan, will be the focus of a Southern Cross University research project investigating the link between genetics and sulphur fertiliser.

Terry Rose and Paul Parker
Associate Professor Terry Rose (left) from Southern Cross Plant Science with Australian Mustard Oil consultant agronomist Paul Parker at a trial site at Stockinbingal near Young in the NSW Riverina.

Led by Professor Graham King, Director of Southern Cross Plant Science, ‘Crop genome complexity: sulphur metabolism and mustard pungency’ received $360,000 through the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme announced last week (Friday, June 15).

Southern Cross University’s Vice Chancellor Adam Shoemaker said: “The awarding of this highly competitive ARC grant demonstrates, once again, the global relevance of the research Southern Cross undertakes in regional Australia. We are enormously proud of the Plant Science’s team led by Graham King – whose research is consistently innovative and outstanding.”

The project will be conducted in partnership with Australian Mustard Oil Pty Ltd based at Young in the NSW Riverina district. AMO’s Volatile Oil of Mustard (VOM) product is already exported to a range of countries, including to the flavour and ingredient business in Japan. The collaboration with Southern Cross will enable Australian Mustard Oil to develop new international markets for VOM and oil products.

“The impact of this project will be to unravel the molecular basis of crop plant plasticity in the context of a complex genome,” said Professor King, a world expert in the area of genomics and epigenetics of crops, with a focus on Brassica.

“We will explore how duplication of genes enables a crop such as mustard to respond to applications of sulphur fertiliser and regulate the stockpiling of the 'hot' volatile oil in mustard seed.”

The project aims to decipher the links between genetics and agronomy (crop nutrition) and crop metabolite production, and therefore requires collaboration between experts in genetics/genomics, metabolomics and agronomy.

Brassica species are cultivated worldwide as oilseed (canola), vegetable (cabbage, pak choi, turnip) and condiment (mustard) crops.

The key components in what makes mustard hot are sulphur-containing secondary metabolites called glucosinolates. The ability to manipulate glucosinolate levels in mustard for specific end use is a key driver for industry.

“This project will explore whether the complexity of Brassica genomes, which has arisen over the past 20 million years of evolution and several thousand years of domestication, contributes to how mustard plants fine tune their metabolism in response to environmental factors, including sulphur availability,” Professor King said.

“Specifically, we will test the hypothesis that sulphur in the soil triggers some very specific small molecular signals that can move between plant organs, and so trigger the synthesis of glucosinolates (the component that makes mustard hot). Unravelling this epigenetic process will also help us understand more generally how plants adapt and respond to external threats and changes in growing conditions.”


ARC Linkage Project: LP170101062

Project name: Crop genome complexity: sulphur metabolism and mustard pungency.

This project aims to explain the molecular basis of crop plant plasticity in the context of a complex crop genome. It will determine how epigenetic mechanisms contribute to regulating the yield of a secondary metabolite harvested from mustard plants in response to variation in environmental factors. Specifically it will explore the relationship between sulphur metabolism and small RNA regulation of glucosinolates. The project should uncover the role that duplicated genetic loci and epigenetic marks play in regulating tissue-specific gene networks, particularly in field-grown environments. The project will explore how duplication of genes enables a crop such as mustard to respond to application of sulphur fertiliser and regulate the stockpiling of the 'hot' volatile oil in mustard seed, a valuable export commodity.

Partner organisation: Australian Mustard Oil Pty Ltd.

Media contact: Sharlene King 0429 661 349