Dr Kai Xun Chan

The Australian National University
Plant Sciences

On a national level, drought decreases agricultural production and costs the Australian economy billions of dollars annually. What changes occur within a plant during drought? How do plants respond to save themselves? Dr Kai Chan has discovered a protein within plant cells that can sense drought, effectively acting like an alarm to alert the plant upon sensing water shortage. The alarm is a small molecule that moves within plant cells to close the pores on leaves preserving water, and producing other proteins and molecules that protect and repair damage cause by drought and excess light.  He is currently developing a novel chemical spray that can be applied quickly, cheaply and safely to crops to activate this molecule earlier during drought, possibly helping crops survive longer, reduce farming losses and increasing food security.

Kai has spoken about his research to high school teachers and career advisors as part of the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s “AgCommunicators” program. He has also taken part in multiple public events including National Science Week, Science in ACTion and Floriade. Through the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, he has has the opportunity to take the public through interactive science activities including “The Giant Plant Cell: – Bio-Bounce”.