Research Output per year
Student Projects Available
Available Honours projects
Performance of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in mixed-waste-organic-outputs (MWOO) as capping substrate for lead rich mine tailings: a glasshouse study
The stabilisation of mineral waste or tailings produced from underground copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) mining is challenging because this material is sterile, structureless and contains elevated levels of heavy metals. Tailings are often capped with substrates that contribute to the stabilisation and sealing. A glasshouse study will be conducted to test whether refined organic waste and mine waste-rock are conductive of plant growth. The test species will be industrial hemp (a low-THC C. sativa L. v. HAN from China). Rhizocylinders will be used in order to examine root structure for plants growing in various treatments. Soil-leachates will be extracted from the various substrates and will be analysed for soluble lead (Pb), and other metals along with pH, electric conductivity and redox potential. Plant performance indices such as total biomass accumulation, leaf morphology, root to shoot ratio and total chlorophyll content will be measured along with relative stem-growth rates calculations. Furthermore, above ground parts will be analysed for heavy metal accumulation using ICP-MS. Currently, little is known about the application of refined organic waste material as capping substrate for mine tailings and the potential of using this substrate to cultivate high-valued crops such as industrial hemp. We are looking for a motivated student to pursue an Honours degree with us in this exciting field. This research project will consist of a combination of laboratory and greenhouse experiments. This project contributes to better understanding the application of high-valued crops such as industrial hemp for mine site rehabilitation.
Spatial distribution of Zinc and Copper in roots of Cannabis sativa L. (industrial hemp) grown under metal-rich conditions in solution.
Industrial hemp can accumulate elevated levels of heavy metals in roots without showing signs of toxicity, which makes hemp an attractive model plant to study novel mechanisms of metal exclusion. In a recent completed Honours project, we found that hemp plants were able to accumulate significant amounts of Zn and Cu in their roots suggesting a mechanism of co-tolerance below ground parts. However, it is unknown whether these mechanisms occurred as a result of Zn-sequestration in vacuoles of cortical cells or Zn co-precipitation with other nutrients including cupper (Cu) and/or phosphorous (P) at the epidermic or endodermic apoplast regions. In this study, hydroponic studies will be conducted to determine the distribution of Zn and Cu at tissue level in roots. The test species will be industrial hemp (a low-THC C. sativa L. v. HAN from China). Flood and drain hydroponic system will be used in order to exposed plants to various concentrations of Zn and Cu in solution. Laboratory analysis using ICP-MS will be used to determine the accumulation of Zn and Cu in roots. In collaboration with ANSTO, the new nuclear microprobe Confocal Heavy Ion Micro-Probe (CHIMP) beamline (AP12305-2020) will be used to determine the spatial distribution of Zn and Cu at tissue level in mature root-sections of hemp plants. In addition to that, post data analysis of metal-mapping will be performed using the GeoPIXE TM software. Furthermore, changes in the metabolic profile of hemp-roots as result of exposure to Zn and Cu will be measured using LC-MS analysis. We are looking for a motivated student to pursue an Honours degree with us in this exciting field. This research project will consist of a combination of state-of-the-art technologies and greenhouse experiments. This project contributes to uncovering new mechanisms of metal tolerance in other than model plants such as industrial hemp.
Potential of using industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) for removal of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFASs) in solution: proof of concept study
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a group of extremely persistent organic pollutants (POPs) with negative effects to human health and the environment. Historically, PFASs have been used in electric and electronic parts, firefighting foam, photo imaging, hydraulic fluids and textiles. Recently, studies using hempseed-based protein have shown the effective removal of PFASs in vitro (Turner et al. 2019). However, little is known whether other tissues of the hemp plant such as roots and associated root-exudates including organic acids, amino acids, proteins, sugar, phenolics and other secondary metabolites, could function as PFASs scavengers. In this study, laboratory and glasshouse studies will be conducted to test the potential of hemp roots to remove and/or precipitate PFASs in solution. The test species will be industrial hemp (a low-THC C. sativa L. v. HAN from China). Flood and drain hydroponic system will be used in order to examine root-adsorption and -accumulation potentials of PFASs in various treatments. Aliquots of hydroponic nutrient solution will be collected overtime and will be analysed for PFASs depletion, along with pH, electric conductivity and redox potential. In addition to that, root tissue will be analysed for PFASs accumulation. Analytical detection of PFASs in solution and plant tissue extracts will be performed following the EPA 537-method developed for drinking water using LC/MS analysis. Furthermore, changes in the metabolic profile of hemp-roots exposed to PFASs will be measured. We are looking for a motivated student to pursue an Honours degree with us in this exciting field. This research project will consist of a combination of laboratory and greenhouse experiments. This project contributes to develop novel cost-effective phytotechnologies for the removal of contaminated water with PFASs.
Turner, B.D., Sloan, S.W. and Currell, G.R., 2019. Novel remediation of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) from contaminated groundwater using Cannabis Sativa L.(hemp) protein powder. Chemosphere, 229, pp.22-31.
Available PhD projects:
Developing cellulosic fibres as biosorptive material of heavy metals in waterways
Plant cellulosic fibre offers a mean to improve the quality of waters contaminated with heavy metals. It has been shown that industrial hemp fibre can be used as an indicator of environmental pollution in aquatic ecosystems. However, little is known about how the metal composition in the cellulosic plant tissue can affect the fibre biosoprtive potential. Plant fibres that accumulate large amounts of metals may be utilised as sustainable biosorptive materials to improve the quality of water around urbanised areas. We are looking for motivated candidates to pursue PhD research with us in this exciting field. This research project will consist of a combination of laboratory and greenhouse experiments, as well as fieldwork. This project contributes to better understanding the application of natural fibres in the cleaning of water contaminated with heavy metals with the overall aim of resolving environmental issues of water contaminated with heavy metals in urban areas around Australia.
Throughout my research in plant molecular physiology and environmental chemistry I have had strong interest in understanding the mechanisms of long-distant transport and storage of metals and metalloids in plants. I am interested in applying this knowledge to improve current green technologies such as phytoremediation which involves the use of plants to improve the quality of ecosystems contaminated with metals and metalloids. I am also interested in applying this knowledge to investigate the formation of metallic nanoparticles in plants as a mechanism of tolerance, and the application of metal tolerant plants to develop new plant-based materials that can be used in the textile and construction industries.
Completed Honours Projects
Phytoremediation potential of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.): tolerance and accumulation of essential metals Cu, Mn and Zn.
Supervisors: Assoc. Prof. Simon Foster, Assoc. Prof. Duanne White and Dr. Tona Sanchez-Palacios
Carly Annabell Beggs (Bachelor of Applied Science/Honours)
Phytoremediation is the ability of plants to accumulate heavy metals in its body parts. Industrial hemp is considered as a good candidate for phytoremediation as it has high metal tolerance and is a fast-growing plant species with a long tap root system. In recent years, research has been focused on investigating synergistic possibilities by using high value crops such as hemp for phytoremediation to restore heavy metal contaminated sites. It represents a simple, economic, environmentally friendly approach to cultivate high value industrial hemp varieties on non-arable land while ameliorating the toxic effects of heavy metals. The primary outcome of this study will be to nominate new elite varieties of industrial hemp based on their ability to tolerate heavy metals.
Characterisation of biogenic antimony nanoparticles in plants using single particle ICP-MS
Supervisors: Prof. William Maher, Assoc. Prof. Simon Foster and Dr. Tona Sanchez-Palacios
Christopher Andrew Johnston (Bachelor of Applied Science/Honours)
Antimony (Sb) is found in over 100 minerals and it is commonly found in nature at concentrations ranging from 0.2 µg g-1 to 0.5 µg g-1. By contrast, anthropogenic activities such mining can increase the levels of Sb to 400 µg g-1 in the mineral waste, which is toxic to most living organism including plants. Remediation of Sb-rich environments using plants has been of increasing interest in recent years. However, little is known about the mechanisms of Sb tolerance in plants, including the formation of Sb nanoparticles. The lack of understanding in the mechanisms of Sb tolerance in plants is in part due to the low recovery percentage (5-10%) of soluble-extractable Sb forms in plants.
Maher, W., C.A. Johnston., J.T. Sánchez-Palacios, S. Foster., (2018), Measuring of metallic nanoparticles of antimony in plants by SP-ICP-MS. In: Meeting of The International Mineralogical Association Conference, Melbourne, Australia, 13-17 August 2018.
Sanchez-Palacios J.T., C.A. Johnston, W. Maher, S. Foster., (2018), Differential effects in the formation of plant-based antimony nanoparticles by inorganic Sb forms. In: Meeting of The International Mineralogical Association Conference, Melbourne, Australia, 13-17 August 2018.
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › Research › peer-review