New cloning technology to grow the Australian dates industry

The Australian climate and soil quality are suitable for growing date palms, however the supply of good quality seedlings is hindering the growth of the industry. Date farmers in Australia are facing a significant challenge in obtaining high-quality planting materials to keep up with the current demand. As a result of this, it has led to the importation of expensive seedlings that ultimately result in low yields.  

Dr Sundar Kalaipandian from the University of Queensland is an Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship recipient and is working on developing a Queensland based commercial production capability of date seedlings. The process is based on innovative cloning protocols, which will contribute significantly to Queensland’s economy.  

Advance Queensland’s Industry Research Fellowship supports researchers to carry out studies that benefit Queensland and Dr Kalaipandian’s research is a demonstration of this. Dr Kalaipandian received $360,000 in funding research over three years to develop a cloning technology to expand the Australian dates industry.  

Can you provide a short overview of your research project? 

My project aims to develop tissue culture protocols to produce date plantlets at commercial scale. In this project, two market-preferred date varieties will be selected and are well-adapted in Australia. The cloning protocol will be developed for those two varieties and will then be tested via next generation sequencing technologies, and the molecular markers will be used to test the true-to-type nature of the plantlets. This transformational cloning technology will produce high-quality, market-preferred, and true-to-type plantlets to Australian date industry. 

Why did you choose to research this? 

Dates are one of the most profitable commercial crops for arid and semi-arid regions. Global consumption of dates is increasing as it is one of the healthiest alternatives to junk food snacks. Australia imports significant quantities of dates every year as the domestic production is unable to meet current demand. Although Australia has a suitable climate and soil to grow date palms, the scarcity in the supply of good quality seedlings is impeding the growth of the industry. I chose this topic for my research project as I have extensive experience in the tissue cultural of palm species.  

Who are you partnering with and why? 

The University of Queensland (UQ) is my host institution, and UQ has world class laboratory facilities. I have specific skills to develop cloning protocols for plants. We partnered with Kokoniu Pty Ltd, a Queensland based company and the Australian Genome Research Facility (AGRF), a not-for-profit company. Kokoniu is interested to commercialize the tissue culture technologies for a range of crops including the coconut and date palm.  

Currently, no Australian operators exist to produce quality seedlings for the date growers. Hence, Kokoniu and UQ developed this meaningful partnership to commercialize tissue culture technology for the date palm. It is important to validate the protocols by using recent technologies such as next generation sequencing. This is why we partner with the AGRF, as it is one of their priorities to support the primary industries through genomics. Also, they are one of the leaders in genome sequencing technologies in Australia. 

How will the funding from Advance Queensland support you on your research journey? 

I have been working for several international institutions and have acquired great skills in research, teaching and training. I am keen to utilize my skills to find a solution to real world problems. It is important for a researcher to see the end result of their research that is a commercial application.  

This fellowship supports me to achieve one of my career goals by allowing me to work with both the research institution and industry. This will ensure that my research results will be utilized by the industry to provide a solution to the problem.  

What are you wanting to achieve in your research? 

I want to develop a transformational cloning technology to mass produce seedlings for the date palm industry. At present, Australian date growers are struggling to get quality seedlings and the cost of seedlings is expensive. Through my research, I want to produce a successful mass propagation protocol at a commercial scale to supply high quality seedlings at a reasonable cost to date growers.  

How will your research benefit and assist Queenslanders? 

Currently the Australian Date Growers Association is looking for an Australian supplier for date palm seedlings. This project will deliver a cloning technology to Queensland-based industry business Kokoniu.  

In the future, our industry partner will mass produce date palm plantlets at a commercial scale from their laboratory in Queensland. This will create new jobs for Queenslanders and will also generate income to Queensland by selling the seedlings. As Kokoniu is based in Queensland, local farmers will have access to buy the seedlings as Queensland has large suitable area for growing the date palm.  

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the 2022 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships program?  

I have a strong passion to take my research from laboratory to commercial applications. This fellowship is a great opportunity for me to transform the research into practical applications and the project is a very important milestone in my career.  

I am a Queenslander and have been living in Queensland since the day I arrived in Australia. I am honoured to receive this fellowship and am very enthusiastic that my research will be useful and benefit Queenslanders.  

Last updated 13 Apr, 2023
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