Prof Jim Whelan, FAA

Research Director, La Trobe Institute for Agriculture and Food (LIAF)
Research Director, ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture
Research Director, International Collaborations, China and India
Chief Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology
AgriBiosciences Professor, Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences, La Trobe University

Highlights of Professor Whelan’s long and successful career include international awards such as the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (recognised as one of the most highly cited and influential authors by the American Society of Plant Biologists), and more than 10,000 citations for his hundreds of published articles focusing on his research work in plant energy metabolism.

As Professor of Plant Science in the Department of Plant and Animal Sciences, School of Agriculture, Biomedicine and Environment, he heads a team of professional scientists and students who are at the cutting edge of research within La Trobe’s Securing Food, Water and the Environment Research Focus Area. He also holds an appointment in the College of Life Science at Zhejiang University in China where he has been the Pao Yu- Kong Chair Professor since 2008 and awarded a West Lake Friendship award in 2015 by the Zhejiang Provincial government for his collaborative research work in China.

He currently has collaborations with Nanjing Agricultural University and China Agricultural University in Beijing. Professor Whelan is Research Director of La Trobe Institute for Agriculture and Food and the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industry Transformation Research Hub in Medicinal Agriculture. He was also instrumental in establishing the highly regarded ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, for which he is currently Chief Investigator.

As part of La Trobe's strategic priority to become the Unrivalled Partner of Choice, Professor Whelan has also been appointed to a fractional role as Director, Research Collaborations (China and India) to grow La Trobe's research partnership efforts and activities within the region. In this role, Professor Whelan provides leadership and oversight of La Trobe’s research strategy and collaborations.

Professor Whelan was elected as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in March 2019.

Oliver Berkowitz

Research Fellow

Oliver completed his PhD in 2003 at the IPK in Gatersleben in Germany before working for 6 years at the Australian National University in Canberra on root physiology in wheat. He moved to the University of Western Australia to investigate plant defence responses. In 2013, Oliver became a member of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology where his research analysed bud development in grape. In 2015 Oliver joined the centre node at La Trobe where he currently applies next-generation sequencing technologies to analyse mitochondrial function and plant responses to stress.

Ricarda Jost

Research Fellow

After obtaining her PhD in 2001, Ricarda worked in the German Plant Sulfur Group at the IPK in Gatersleben. In 2003, she moved to the Australian National University in Canberra to work on early drought responses in wheat. In 2008, Ricarda started to study plant adaption to low phosphorous environments at the University of Western Australia. A keen interest in plant nutrition and associated cellular signalling networks attracted her to the La Trobe node of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology in 2015. Ricarda's overall aim is to study local plant adaption to low nutrient availability and improve nutrient utilisation in crop plants.

Yan Wang

Research Fellow

Following the completion of her PhD, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Yan worked as a Research Associate in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia within the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. Since 2014, Yan has been employed by La Trobe to research mitochondrial retrograde signalling within the Whelan Lab. One of her current research projects is investigating the characterisation of mitochondrial biogenesis and function and the identification of key signalling pathways.

Reena Narsai

Research Fellow

Reena's research interest lies in using the latest technologies and molecular approaches, including next generation sequencing, to find how mitochondria regulate germination success and progression in rice. In 2016 she was awarded a DECRA fellowship to continue her research.

Ritu Shree Jain

Research Fellow

Ritu Shree completed her PhD in Plant Molecular Biology in 2014 from the University of Leeds in the UK. She received scholarships for her PhD studentship from the Science Bridge: Sustainable Indo-UK Agriculture Initiative and for her Masters course from the Faculty of Bioscience at the University of Leeds. Ritu Shree's key research interests include transcriptomic and epigenetic mechanisms controlling plant stress responses towards combinatorial as well as singular biotic and abiotic stresses in crops and transgenerational immune priming.

Andreas Hartmann

PhD Student

Andreas graduated from University of Osnabrueck (Germany) in 2015 with a Masters of Science Biology during which time he undertook a short internship in the Whelan Lab. Following this, in 2016 Andreas commenced his PhD in the Whelan Lab on a La Trobe full fee research scholarship (LTUFFRS). Andreas is building on his masters research which looked into the isoform specific regulation of the alternative Oxidase with is PhD focusing on the mitochondrial retrograde response in the monocot plants of rice and barley.

Meiyan Ren

PhD Student

Meiyan joined the Whelan Lab within the Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences Department at La Trobe as a PhD student, in 2015 after completing her Masters degree in Natural Science, Botany at University of Zhejiang, China. She is interested in the functional characterisation of proteins that play roles in determining responses to abiotic stresses in Arabidopsis. Her current work focuses on the functional roles of calcium signalling CBL-CIPK proteins in the Pi deficiency and drought stress responses in Arabidopsis.

Changyu (Joe) Yi

PhD Student

Joe completed his Masters degree in horticulture in China where he studied the effects of CO2 enrichment on salt tolerance in tomato. For his work, Changyu received the 2014 Zhejiang University Meritorious Student Award, Outstanding Graduate Student. He is currently working on uncovering the detailed molecular characterisation of individual members of the AOX (alternative oxidase) family and identifying adaptive traits to low phosphorus availability in 200+ Arabidopsis accessions.

Cunman (Frank) He

PhD Student

Frank originates from Shandong, China. He joined the Whelan Lab in 2017 and is in his second year of his PhD at La Trobe. His project focuses on the identification of differences in post-translational regulation of AOX isoforms in Arabidopsis thaliana and the identification of new regulators of mitochondrial specific stress signalising pathways in Arabidopsis thaliana.

Yanqiao Zhu

Honorary Trainee Fellow

Yanqiao is a Forage seed science master-doctor continuous study student at the China Agricultural University, Beijing and is currently undertaking an internship in the Whelan Lab which she commenced in 2017. Her placement involves working on projects which examine the role of mitochondria in seed aging by examining the biochemical characteristics of mitochondria form artificially 'aged' seeds so as to gain knowledge on increasing the lifetime of seed storage and nutritional value maintenance.

Chunli Mao

Honorary Trainee Fellow

Chunli commenced an internship with the Whelan Lab in 2018 as a master-doctor continuous study student from the China Agricultural University. Her current research involves working on projects which examine the role of mitochondria in seed waging by examining the biochemical characteristics of mitochondria form artificially 'aged' seeds so as to gain knowledge on increasing the lifetime of seed storage and nutritional value maintenance.

Marta Peirats-llobet

Research Associate

Marta obtained her PhD in Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at IBMCP in Spain studying how drought stress hormone, ABA, is connected with chromatin remodelling machinery. Marta joined La Trobe in 2018 as a postdoc to study seed germination with high-throughput sequencing techniques. Marta's current project in the Whelan Lab is in collaboration with PepsiCo.

Lim Chee Liew

Research Fellow

Lim Chee completed her PhD in Plant Genetics on the control of flowering and photoperiodism in garden pea at the University of Tasmania. She was awarded a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Melbourne to conduct research on flowering time regulation on soybean. Lim Chee joined La Trobe in 2016 to further her interests in molecular genetics and plant science to system biology and next-generation sequencing technologies. Her current projects investigate mitochondrial retrograde response and signalling pathway including communication of mitochondria with other organelles using phenomics and transcriptomic approaches.

Amelia Pegg

Research Assistant

In 2014, Amelia completed her Honours in plant sciences at Monash University. In 2017, she commenced employment as a cultivator at CANN Group Limited. Amelia joined La Trobe in 2019 and is now part of the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub in Medicinal Agriculture. Her area of research centres around the effects of cultivation practices on cannabinoid profile, nutrient profile and yield of cannabis plants.

Tim Burge

Technical Specialist - Plant Phenotyping

Tim completed his honours at Murdoch University, Western Australia in 2012. In the years following, he has held positions as a research scientist in the agricultural industry and a project officer in the biosecurity sector. Tim has managed research projects including the development of pre-visual hyperspectral and multispectral detection of a variety of agricultural pests and diseases. Tim is interested in the development of hyperspectral image phenotyping, and the further application of this technology for the agriculture industry.

Emma Gillingham

Honours Student

Emma recently completed her Bachelor of Biosciences and is currently an Honours student. She began working in the Whelan lab as a research assistant from early 2017 on the characterisation of novel regulatory components involved in nutrient homeostasis in Arabidopsis thaliana.