Priming young cotton seedings with natural silicon could give them added defence against diseases and pests, according to the research work of Nepali-born Dinesh Kafle.
His work earned him the CRDC Award at this week’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Growing up in a small village, Dr Kafle lived next to an agricultural research station whose field trials would inspire him for life. He trained in Germany and Israel, before turning his attention to Australian cotton in 2018.
Now an agriculture scientist at Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, he is set to investigate whether cotton plants can be primed to boost their defences against fusarium wilt and reniform nematode. His project will germinate cotton seeds in soil with added silicon, before infecting them with the diseases.
He said that while silica is present naturally in the soil, it is difficult for crops to absorb.
He plans to examine if there is any priming effect when plants are given soluble silicon as seedlings. “It’s a novel approach so, if successful, it’s going to be really a great tool for growers to consider while managing the disease.”
The study will trial cotton seeds grown in both seedling trays and pots, to test whether transplanting silicon-primed seedlings provides better defence than direct sowing. Dr Kafle said the concept of priming is relatively new, having been studied mostly in ecological settings. “I’m trying to see if the priming has any implications in agriculture, so it’s really exciting,” he said.