Modelling plant response to abiotic stress

Professor Stan Miklavcic, Dr Kylie Foster, Dr Stuart Roy and Dr Galyna Safonova

Abiotic stresses such as high salt can severely reduce crop plant productivity. Higher plants have evolved multiple, interconnected strategies that enable them to survive extremely unfavourable environmental conditions. It is now well documented that plants respond to salt stress at the level of individual cells as well as synergistically as a whole organism. The mechanics of salt responses fall into the overarching categories of osmotic tolerance, salt exclusion and tissue tolerance. These become activated at different stages upon a plant's exposure to salt, they involve different regions of the plant, and they involve different metabolic functions. With the accumulated knowledge of the anatomy and function of different plant parts, of the general phenotypic response of plants to salt stresses, and of the genetic factors that influence the degree to which plants tolerate salt stress, it is now possible to quantitatively predict when and how a plant responds to salt stress.

To increase plant salinity tolerance it is necessary to understand the transport of ions such as Na+ and Cl-  through a plant.  In this project a biophysical model of ion transport is developed to identify the key transport factors leading to toxic salt accumulation in plant tissues. The model seeks to reveal key pathways and processes responsible for maintaining plant yield in difficult environments and to propose novel strategies to improve stress tolerance for Australia's main crops: wheat and barley.


K.J. Foster, S.J. Miklavcic (2013) Mathematical modelling of the uptake and transport of salt in plant roots, Journal of Theoretical Biology, v336, pp 132-143

K.J. Foster, S.J. Miklavcic (2014) On the competitive uptake and transport of ions through differentiated root tissues, Journal of Theoretical Biology, , v340, pp 1-10

K.J. Foster, S.J. Miklavcic (2015)  Toward a biophysical understanding of the salt stress response of individual plant cells, Journal of Theoretical Biology,  v385, p130-142.

K.J. Foster, S.J. Miklavcic (2016) Modelling root zone effects on preferred pathways for the passive transport of ions and water in plant roots”, Frontiers in Plant Physiology, 7:914

Areas of study and research

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