Plant & Food Research is involved in four projects funded in this year’s Marsden Funding round, the most successful Marsden round for the Institute.
Plant & Food Research will lead three projects – tracing the evolution of smell, building an electronic nose, and understanding flower colour in snapdragons – and will also be involved in a project with Victoria University of Wellington to understand salt tolerance in plants.
The development of diverse and sensitive olfactory sensors was a major step in sensory biology evolution, triggered by the evolutionary steps that saw animals leave the water and start to populate the land. Professor Richard Newcomb will lead a project to understand the origins of the olfactory receptor genes in insects, one of the most diverse and sensitive olfactory systems in the animal kingdom. By generating maps of the olfactory genes identified in a number of species, the team will be able to determine the evolutionary pathway of these genes from their origins in ancient insects. This research will also allow the team to test the hypotheses that the evolution of these receptors coincided with the origin of flight which required new systems for finding mates, detecting prey and avoiding predators.