A Queensland scientist is helping save a global food staple (and a favourite spread) from wipeout.
Shona Wood from the University of Southern Queensland is breeding net-blotch resistant peanuts – a disease which is decimating crops around the world.
Left uncontrolled, net blotch can cause yield losses of up to 50 per cent in peanut crops, costing Queensland farmers millions in damages.
“Historically, spraying chemicals has been the main way to control the disease,” Ms Wood said.
“But by breeding disease-resistant peanuts, farmers don’t have to worry about fungicide programs, saving money while also protecting the environment.”
From a glasshouse in Kingaroy in Queensland's South Burnett region, Ms Wood propagated, grew and exposed peanut varietals to net blotch, without competition from other diseases such as late leaf spot and rust.
In doing so, her method enabled distinctions between resistant and susceptible lines.
“It’s been really rewarding to start to see the benefits to local producers,” Ms Wood said.
Globally, her research has growers going nuts in China and South Africa, too.
“It’s an important disease globally, especially in China where more than 16 million tonnes of peanuts are produced annually,” Ms Wood said.
“By better understanding the pathogen's genetic diversity and sources of genetic resistance, growers can move away from fungicides and effectively screen for net blotch resistance.”
A former chef in London, Ms Wood moved to Queensland’s peanut capital in 2016.
Here her passion for food production morphed into a thesis project.
The soon-to-be Doctor submitted her PhD last month. A six-year journey, Ms Wood welcomed two children along the way.
“This PhD became sort of like my third baby,” she said.
A tough nut to crack, Ms Wood described the process as flexible and accommodating, particularly for people with young children.
“Your PhD is what you plan it to be, so you can work it around what you need to do.”
Find out more about studying a PhD at the University of Southern Queensland.