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Research Council plants the seed

Research scientist, Dr Maud Bernoux works in the lab. She is studying how plants trigger a response to disease at the CSIRO.

Research scientist, Dr Maud Bernoux works in the lab. She is studying how plants trigger a response to disease at the CSIRO. Photo: Rohan Thomson

French-born Maud Bernoux will be given a helping hand towards achieving a breakthrough in discovering how plants fight diseases today.

Dr Bernoux is one of Canberra's researchers who will receive almost $40 million in grants through the Australian Research Council.

Nationwide, universities will receive almost $360 million from the federal government for a range of research programs including personal safety, resources, astronomy and health.

Research scientist, Dr Maud Bernoux with undiseased flax plants which are being used in her study.

Research scientist, Dr Maud Bernoux with undiseased flax plants which are being used in her study. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The projects span a variety of issues - mapping the universe, reducing indigenous incarceration, gravitational waves, energy efficient lighting, the role of mentoring, diseases and parasites.

The grants come just weeks after universities complained the mid-year budget update contained deep cuts to research.

Dr Bernoux's pioneering work at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation will influence the development of new strategies to protect Australian crops from destructive disease and reduce the use of pesticides.

''I am trying to understand how plants defend themselves against disease just like the human body defends itself,'' she said.

She works at the molecular level studying plant immune receptors that confer resistance to infectious disease.

''Plant immunity is not very well understood yet so there is a lot of work to do,'' she said.

''Basically we know that plants are able to recognise some components of the disease agents and are able to trigger a response.

''They are able to recognise specifically different types of disease and then trigger different responses, so I am looking at the step after that, the step after recognition.

''Even the recognition is not really well understood.''

Dr Bernoux will be awarded a three-year, $375,000 grant to continue her work.

The Australian Research Council's 1014 major grants will be announced by Science and Research Minister, Chris Evans.

''From 2012 to 2015, we will invest $58.9 billion in core university funding - that's $30.1 billion in additional funding for universities - more than double the level of funding on the previous four years under John Howard,'' he said.

Other ACT projects to receive funding are:

■ Reducing indigenous incarceration by exploring the conditions, governance and cultural appropriateness of reinvesting resources otherwise spent on incarceration, into services to enhance juvenile offenders' ability to remain in their community to reduce further criminal behaviours and health costs associated with incarceration; $490,000; Australian National University (ANU).

■ Developing reliable and effective sensing technology and evaluating it as an objective measure of depressive disorders, a leading cause of disability worldwide; $360,000; University of Canberra.

■ Australian partnership in advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory which will be the first observatory capable of frequent observation of known sources of gravitational waves leading to the birth of gravitational wave astronomy; $990,000; ANU.

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