Professor Rob Harding

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Deputy Program Leader, Banana Biotechnology

PhD (University of Queensland), BSc(Hons) (University of Queensland), BSc (University of Queensland)

Biography: Prof Harding has been involved in agricultural biotechnology research for more than 30 years. His research initially focused on the characterization of economically important plant viruses affecting sub-tropical/tropical crops and the development of sensitive and reliable diagnostic tests. During the last 15 years, his research focus has shifted towards the control of two devastating banana diseases: Bunchy top caused by Banana bunchy top virus and Panama disease TR4 caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense. A variety of different conventional and novel strategies are being used in this research including gene silencing, the patented INPACT technology and the use of plant resistance (R) genes. Both gene modification and gene-editing approaches are being investigated. Prof Harding is also involved in a Bill and Melinda Gates-funded project generating pro-vitamin A-biofortified bananas, the staple food of Uganda, to combat malnutrition in East Africa. Research program: Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy Research areas

1. Characterisation, detection and control of  single-stranded DNA plant viruses (geminiviruses and nanoviruses). These viruses cause some of the most important plant diseases worldwide for which there are currently no effective control measures available. We are investigating the replication strategy of these viruses and other aspects of  their lifecycle to identify weak links which can be  exploited to develop novel resistance strategies using both GM and gene-editing approaches. 2. Control of Panama disease TR4 of banana. Bananas are one of the world's most important staple food crops but production is threatened by the fungal disease known as TR4. This research focuses on the development of resistant plants using both GM (plant-derived R genes) and gene-editing strategies. Field trials of the most promising lines are currently in progress. 3. Enhancement of pro-vitamin A (pVA) levels in Ugandan bananas. Bananas are a staple food in Uganda but are deficient in pVA which can result in malnutrition. We are spear-heading an international effort to genetically engineer pVA-fortified bananas for release to farmers in Uganda in 2021. We are also investigating the use of gene-editing to achieve this outcome. 4. Enhancement of banana fruit quality. We are using both GM and gene-editing strategies to generate bananas with enhanced fruit qualities including increased levels of health-promoting compounds and non-browning. Areas of expertise

  • Characterization, detection and control of ssDNA plant viruses
  • Development and application of GM and gene-editing strategies for the control of Panama disease of banana
  • Development and application of GM and gene-editing strategies to enhance banana fruit quality
  • Gene technology regulations

Additional information

Professional Experience:  

  • 2011 Professor in Plant Biotechnology, School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences
  • 2002 Associate Professor in Plant Biotechnology, School of Life Sciences
  • 2000 Associate Director (Commercialisation), Centre for Molecular Biotechnology
  • 1998 Head of Microbiology, School of Life Sciences, QUT
  • 1997 Senior Lecturer, School of Life Sciences, QUT
  • 1991 Lecturer, School of Life Sciences, QUT
  • 1990 Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Life Sciences, QUT
Title
A platform for the continuous genetic improvement of accepted cultivars of vegetatively propagated horticultural crops (HAL)
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
AI13008
Start year
2013
Keywords
Bananas; Cisgenics; Intergenerational Transgene Stability; Marker Free Transformation; Potatoes
Title
Extreme Expression: Building a Platform for Industrial Plant Biotechnology
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
FS100100083
Start year
2011
Keywords
Biofarming; Transgene Expression; Silencing; Inducible Expression
Title
Generation of Bananas with Resistance to Fusarium Wilt
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
LP110100186
Start year
2011
Keywords
Fusarium Wilt; Apoptosis Genes; R Genes; Banana