Amy Watson

Position: PhD student

Place of birth: New Zealand, Christchurch

Languages: English, some French

Scholarships: Australian Postgraduate Award
Scopus: 554-723-764-00
Researcher ID: C-4774-2016
Advisors: Dr Lee HickeyDr Jessica RutkoskiDr Jesse Poland Dr Jack Christopher 



The demand for higher yield is intensifying due to a booming human population, however yield growth in many areas is stagnating due, in part, to an increasingly erratic climate. In order to provide the necessary yield advancement, more efficient breeding schemes that increase the rate of genetic gain and develop stable, drought-tolerant cultivars are required. This could be achieved through integration of multiple, cutting-edge technologies that promote a faster, more efficient, breeding cycle.

Speed breeding and genomic selection (GS) are two technologies that can greatly reduce the length of the breeding cycle. Speed breeding is a technology refined at UQ, which enables six generations of wheat to be produced each year by using controlled temperature and extended photoperiod, thus accelerating development of inbred lines. GS enables prediction of the best individuals based on their genotype and performance of a related training population, prior to field trials, allowing immediate commencement of the next round of crossing. The accuracy of GS predictions can be further enhanced by the use of multiple ‘proxy traits’ in addition to yield information. Yield often displays low heritability, while proxy traits are highly heritable, simple to measure and possess a moderate-strong correlation to yield, making them ideal to increase yield prediction accuracy.

Phenotyping, incorporating new phenotyping methods
Phenotyping, incorporating new phenotyping methods

High-throughput phenotyping (HTP) methods are a key factor in improving the rate of genetic gain as it allows efficient assessment of proxy traits over large populations. This kind of efficiency is needed to fully take advantage of the shorter breeding cycles provided by speed breeding and GS and also provides avenues to increase the power of GS prediction models.









Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) 2016 Early Career Award:







  • Create a breeding scheme that incorporates speed breeding, GS, and HTP technologies to improve genetic gain for wheat yield in terminal drought environments
  • Identify yield-correlated proxy traits and develop HTP screening methodology
  • Evaluate multi-trait GS models using proxy trait measurements for improving prediction accuracy


Speed breeding for rapid population development
Speed breeding for rapid population development

Research outlook

I have completed development of an F5 inbred wheat population using SSD under speed breeding and identified several promising proxy traits with moderate to strong correlation with field-measured yield.

These traits will now be put to the test by incorporating them in multi-trait GS models for selection of the best lines for a terminal drought environment. This will be followed by yield trials.



Bowen J, Ireland HS, Crowhurst R, Luo Z, Watson AE, Foster T, Gapper N, Giovanonni JJ, Mattheis JP, Watkins C, Rudell D, Johnston WJ, Schaffer RJ (2014). Selection of low-variance expressed Malus x domestica (apple) genes for use as quantitative PCR reference genes (housekeepers). Tree Genetics & Genomes, 10, 751–759.

Chagné D, Dayatilake D, Diack R, Oliver M, Ireland H, Watson A, Gardiner SE, Johnston JW, Schaffer RJ and Tustin S (2014). Genetic and environmental control of fruit maturation, dry matter and firmness in apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) Horticulture Research, 1, published online at

France J, Haghighi M, Watson A, Mills T, Hossein Behboudian M (2014). Mineral nutrition of ‘Petopride’ processing tomato under partial rootzone drying. Journal of plant nutrition, 37, 1056-1062.

Foster T, Watson A, van Hooijdonk B, Schaffer R (2014). FT and BFT-like genes are up-regulated in the vasculature of apple dwarfing rootstocks. Tree genetics and genomes, 10, 189-202.

Seleznyova AN, Dayatilake GA, Watson AE, Tustin DS (2013).  After initial invigoration by heading, young pear trees show reduction in axis vigour and increased propensity to flower. Functional plant biology, 40, 34-43.

Watson A, Seleznyova A, Dayatilake G and Tustin S (2012). Rootstocks affect pear (Pyrus communis) tree growth through extent of node neoformation and flowering with key differences to apple. Functional plant biology, 39, 493-502.

Conference posters

Watson A, Rutkoski J, Christopher J, Chenu K, Hickey L (April, 2016). Predictor traits to improve yield prediction ability in wheat under ‘speed breeding’, Monogram 2016 Meeting, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Watson A, Kelly A, Rutkoski J, Christopher J, Chenu K, Hickey L (September, 2015). Indirect selection of higher yield using predictor traits and ‘speed breeding’, International Wheat Conference 2015, Sydney, Australia.

Watson A, Seleznyova AN, van Hooijdonk BM, Friend AP, Foster TM and Tustin DS (December, 2012). Grafted bud type, growing region and rootstock influence primary axis development of ‘Royal Gala’ apple trees during the first year after grafting, X International Symposium on Integrating Canopy, Rootstock and Environmental Physiology in Orchard Systems, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Wiedow C, Watson A, Seleznyova A, Gardiner S, Tustin S, Chagné D, Brewer L and Palmer J (January, 2011). Dwarfing Pyrus rootstocks – genetic diversity and architecture, PAG conference, San Diego, United States.