An end to rust, war on willows, protecting the potato and more – Friday at the International Botanical Congress

  • An end to rust?
  • iPhones talking to the trees
  • Protecting the potato
  • War on willows

Cellulose: from paper planes to powering jet planes

30% of US transport fuelled by plants by 2030

Cellulose – the structural foundation of plants – could be our salvation as a biofuel. The leader of the world’s largest integrated bioenergy research institute says that the US is on track to meet its target of producing 30 per cent of its transport fuels from plants by the year 2030. And Australia is helping them do it – with collaborations in Melbourne, Adelaide and Queensland. As one example he cites BP’s plan to open a commercial cellulosic biofuel facility in 2013. More info at:

Australia’s wheat crop looks to have been saved from a devastating infestation of rust—for now.

In 1999 a new strain of stem rust, a devastating fungal disease of wheat, emerged in Uganda. It has now spread to north to Yemen and Iran, and south to South Africa. And since 2000, two new strains of stripe rust have invaded Australia from North America and Europe. Australian wheat farmers have outlayed up to $90 million a year in fungicides to control this new strain.

Fortunately, resistant wheats have now been developed in Australia to both these threats, says Prof Robert Park of the University of Sydney, head of the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program. “We might have dodged a bullet, time will tell, but it has been a real wake up call.”

Read the full release here:

Protecting the potato

More durable resistance to late blight—the fungal infection which precipitated the Irish Potato Famine—is on the way, Prof Paul Birch of the University of Dundee will tell the Congress today. They’ve found resistance genes in wild potatoes that can be combined to confer resistance which should last longer than the few growing seasons possible using normal breeding techniques.

50 million seeds a kilometre – can we win the war on willow

A kilometre of willow-infested river bank can generate 50 million willow seeds and half the seeds are travelling over 15 kilometres. So how can we stop willow’s spread? CSIRO researchers have found certain tree groups provide most of the seed – target those and you can slow willow’s spread, and save time and money.

The full release is online:

Snap a leaf on your iPhone

US researchers are demonstrating Leafsnap, a new iPhone app, which can identify trees from a photograph of a leaf. So far it only does NE USA trees. They’re also creating DNA ‘barcodes’ to allow researchers to quickly identify species and to find new species, says Dr John Cress, Curator of Botany at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Barcodes can also provide information on evolutionary pathways and biodiversity.

Australian Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)

Nearly 50,000 historical biological titles are now freely available online, providing a significant resource for Australian biologists, researchers and enthusiasts.

The high-quality scans include the whole book – text, covers, library labels, marbled endpapers and marks of age. The BHL puts these useful and often beautiful books in the hands of everyone.

Read the full release online at

For more information:  call Niall Byrne on 0417 131 977,
or AJ Epstein on 0433 339 141 or email

Congress media pages: