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Curtin-led research to benefit endangered plant species conservation at mining sites

Media release

C157/10

New research led by Curtin University will look at using cryogenic storage as a way of ensuring the survival of plant species endangered by mining operations in WA and around the world.

The project will develop new ways of storing high value native plant germplasm (plant shoot tips or seeds) at ultra cold temperatures of -196 °C in liquid nitrogen.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Ricardo L. Mancera from Curtin’s WA Biomedical Research Institute, said the outcomes of this project would have broad benefits for the mining industry and environmental conservation.

“Current methods of preserving native plant species collected from mining sites requires the use of specialised laboratories to propagate plant germplasm and store it in readiness for post-mining landscape rehabilitation,” he said.

“Cryopreservation is a more stable and cheaper process that once perfected can replace this costly and intensive method of preserving plant species, which would ensure that unique plants and critically endangered species do not become extinct.

“Conservation programs and landcare groups will also benefit as the protocols developed will provide these organisations with additional resources to ensure the long-term survival of native plant germplasm collections.”

The project is funded by the Australian Research Council under its Linkage Project Grant scheme, with additional funding from Alcoa of Australia, BHP Billiton, Worsley Alumina, and the Botanical Gardens and Parks Authority (King’s Park Botanic Garden). The project also involves researchers from RMIT University, the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia.

“The aim of this project is to conduct a comprehensive cross-disciplinary study of the factors that determine the ability of various plant species to survive cryogenic storage,” Associate Professor Mancera said.

“The project will focus on recalcitrant and/or endangered species that are relevant to post-mining rehabilitation programs, such as those found in the bauxite-rich Jarrah forest of WA.

“We want to be able to develop cryopreservation protocols for native plant species by using a combination of molecular modelling, biophysical determinations and cryogenic experimental approaches.

“We hope to investigate five to six representative plant species by the time the project concludes in 2012.”

Contact: Ann Marie Lim; Public Relations; Curtin; 08 9266 4241; 0401 103 532; ann.lim@curtin.edu.au