Dr Monika Murcha
University of Western Australia
Our rising population means that we need to implement strategies now to increase global food production by 50%. This is not helped by limited land availability, shrinking nutrient resources and the impact of climate change. One strategy is to develop plants with more harvestable products, that are super-efficient, can thrive with limited fertiliser and survive changing environments. By starting at the source of energy within a cell, the mitochondria, we can control the plants energy source. Dr Murcha has identified specific gatekeepers that can regulate the rate of protein import into mitochondria and thus regulate energy production. She is now searching for the master regulators of these gatekeepers, factors that regulate mitochondrial activity and energy production. By identifying these specific regulators in mitochondria, they hope to modify mitochondrial energy production altering plant growth and development, producing bigger biomass, higher seed yields and increasing germination rates.
During National Science week, Monika has given practical demonstrations to school-age children, including the virtual plant cell 360º VR Experience. She is actively engaged in promoting women in STEM particularly encouraging mothers to continue in their research careers following maternity leave by being involved in several networks such as Athena SWAN and Women in Science.