Research

The School of Life Sciences contributes extensively to research within La Trobe. It makes important contributions to the major research strengths in the university - in particular to the areas of environmental science and management, and molecular and physiological cell biology.

Our staff have a proud history of achieving valuable research and consultancy outcomes, in successful partnership with business and other research organisations.

Our research centres

Murray Darling Freshwater Research Centre (MDFRC)

The MDFRC is a multi-disciplinary research centre with a focus across three broad themes: biodiversity, ecosystem function and resilience.

AgriBio: the Centre for AgriBioscience

This $288m public-private partnership between La Trobe and the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) will see La Trobe become the centre of Victorian research in agricultural science. AgriBio will allow La Trobe staff and students, predominantly from the School of Life Sciences, to conduct research in one of Australia's premier research facilities.

AgriBio international graduate program

AgBio_1

The AgriBio international graduate program is specifically designed for international students to enter an Australian graduate research program either directly from their honors degree program (4 year course) or masters program.

The student will immediately enter a world-class research environment, starting research with their supervisor of choice. In addition to this one-on-one research-training program, the following enrichment modules will be offered in this graduate research program.

Year 1

Professor Jim Whelan
  • 10 week English course designed to sharpen both oral and written English skills.
  • Research seminar and poster presentation to train and develop skills in scientific presentation.

Years 2 and 3

AgriBio-researcher 1
  • Dedicated courses in systems biology, lecture and workshop based to ensure training in all emerging technologies.
  • Dedicated training in issues of intellectual property and commercialisation of scientific discoveries.
  • Training in marketing and economics of agriculture.
  • Training in writing scientific manuscripts.
  • Training in multi-media forums and in graphical design techniques for scientific visualisation of data.
  • Training in media and presentation of science to community and non-expert end-users.
  • International conference attendance and presentation in your discipline field.

Year 4

AgriBio-researcher 2
  • Training in grant application on how to obtain research and fellowship funding.
  • Career advice and development of a web based scientific profile and web page.

For further details about the program and to download the pre-application form, please click here

Featured research students

Agricultural Sciences

Pieter RaedtsDaniel Espinosa
Supervisors:
Dr Peter Sale and Professor Caixian Tang
Role of break crops in mobilizing phosphorus for the following wheat
"Phosphorus is the second most limiting nutrient for plant growth after nitrogen. Farmers apply these nutrients as fertilizers in order to increase crop yield. However, the efficiency of fertiliser use is generally low, especially in the case of phosphorus where the percentage of applied fertiliser phosphorus that is taken up by crop plants is around 10 to 30%. The fertiliser phosphorus that is not taken up by plants accumulates in the soil, so many cropping soils now have quite high total phosphorus levels. However much of this accumulated phosphorus is not readily available to plants, as the element reacts with soil compounds and becomes unavailable to most plants. Fertiliser practices are now expensive due to increments in fertilizer prices, coupled with the low use efficiency. This narrows the profit margin for farmers and increases the risk of environmental pollution from phosphorus building up in lakes, rivers and streams.

The research that I will undertake in my PhD program aims to understand how legume break crops can mobilise P for the following wheat crop. Such understanding may well lead to practices that can help grain producers use more of the P "bank" in cropping soils, that is currently unavailable to cereal crops. "

Click here to read Daniel's work, as featured in GRDC ground cover.


Pieter RaedtsPieter Raedts
Supervisor:
Dr Markandeya Jois
"Spying on grazing cows with smart sensors tells us what they are eating, and will help farmers improve the cows' diet.
Our research involves dairy cows, and improving their conversion of grass into milk. We use sensors that can tell grass eating behaviour, and components in milk that indicate how efficiently they use energy and protein in their diet to produce milk. As a result, we are now looking into ways to transform our positive findings into a precision farming system that can be applied by dairy farmers at a practical level. La Trobe University engineers are already developing long lasting smart sensors for use in this system."

Pieter speaks about his work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams.


Botany

AliciaAlicia Greenhill
Primary supervisor:
Dr Kim Plummer Secondary supervisors Dr Anthony Gendall and Dr Ian Porter
"My research has focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms behind the formation of survival structures in the devastating fungal pathogen Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. These structures, called sclerotia, are integral to its spread and survival. If we could understand exactly which genes are vital to this process, we could potentially create a targeted fungicide that would stop sclerotia being formed and thus lessen the spread of Sclerotinia diseases. During my project I carried out chemical inhibition trials, in addition to creating and studying a number of genetically modified, sclerotia-deficient mutants. "

Alicia speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams.


Microbiology

JenJen Wiltshire
Supervisor:
Dr Ashley Franks
"The objective of my research is to improve upon a heavy metal remediation strategy called phytoextraction by utilizing plant-microbe interactions. Phytoextraction is a process that utilizes plants, with the unique ability to accumulate heavy metals in their above ground tissues, as a strategy to remove heavy metal contaminants from the environment. Current heavy metal remediation strategies are expensive and environmentally destructive. This work may lead to an environmentally friendly, cost effective alternative to heavy metal clean up."

Jen speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams.


LaraLara Bereza-Malcolm
Supervisor:
Dr Ashley Franks Co-supervisor: Dr Gulay Mann (Defence Science Institute)
"I am interested in the development of a device known as a microbial biosensor. Microbial biosensors are bacteria which have been engineered to detect specific, potentially dangerous compounds in the environment. In our case, we are interested in linking the detection of toxic heavy metals with a visual response."

Lara speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams.


Rosie DonaldsonRosanna Donaldson
Supervisor:
Dr Naomi Bishop
"My research is looking at the co-associated disorders of autism because autism never found alone, as a single disorder. There is always something else going on like gut problems, differences in immune function and hormonal levels, large head-size, and the increased risk of some types of cancer. This raises the question, is autism a brain only disorder or not? This is one of the questions I'm trying to address as part of my research."

Rosanna speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams.


Sanja AracicSanja Aracic
Supervisor:
Dr Vilma A Stanisich
"My PhD concerned a bacterial polysaccharide (curdlan) that has commercial applications particularly as a food additive. Multiple genetic and environmental factors that increase or decrease production of curdlan and additional novel polysaccharides were uncovered. These findings may lead to cost cutting, improved yield and new applications of these polysaccharides in industrial production."

Sanja speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams.


Zoology

Nicole ButlerNicole Butler
Supervisor:
Dr Richard Peters
"My PhD project involves studying the anti-predator behaviour of a native Australian bird, the zebra finch. I will conduct captive and field experiments involving presentation of a model predator in order to determine if this species possesses a distinct alarm call. I will also perform playback experiments to investigate their ability to eavesdrop on and respond to the alarm calls of other species of birds."

Nicole speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams.