On any given day, researchers at Horsham's Australian Grains Genebank could receive a call from a beer brewer, an artisan baker, a crop breeder or a university student.
The scientists' work involves restoring and preserving genes in crop DNA, meaning the facility possesses the most genetically diverse range of grain seeds in Australia.
The work of scientists from the Wimmera and beyond is in the spotlight this National Science Week, which ends on Sunday.
One genebank research scientist, Dr Katherine Whitehouse, said it was important as many genes as possible were available for breeders to use into the future.
"Certain crop traits are fashionable to breeders at the moment because of climate change, but different things may be requested in 20 years' time," she said.
"We have had a spike in interest from industry such as craft brewers and bakers recently, but mostly breeders want to use our seed, because with food domestication we've basically lost so much of the original genetic diversity that was there.
"We can't naturally put that back into the plant without breeding them with their close relatives or another variety that have different genes. That's generally what we are conserving."
The Genebank also contains many varieties of the wild relatives of crops such as rice and sorghum. Dr Whitehouse said these help to preserve Australia's stocks of unique grain crops.
Dr Whitehouse said different genes gave the seeds different flavour and texture profiles, which appealed to food production businesses.
Her work involves understanding seed aging. On a daily basis she treats seeds differently to speed up the aging process and measure how it affects the seed's quality or longevity.
"There are different factors that can affect the end quality, which we're not totally sure about," she said.
"For example, it can be anything that happens pre-harvest - like the temperature and the climate the plant experiences during development - to harvesting too early, or too late. As soon as the seed leaves the plant it starts to age.
"There are different optimum drying regimes for different seeds, and we don't know what they are exactly for every single crop yet - so there is a lot of work to be done."
Originally from Birmingham in the United Kingdom, Dr Whitehouse has been working in Horsham for the past 18 months, having done a similar job at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines for the previous five years.
Another research scientist, Dr Giao Nguyen, has become a full-time member of the Genebank's staff in the past three months, having worked in Horsham for the past two-and-a-half years.
Dr Nguyen uses digital imaging technology to figure out different characteristics of wheat, barley and field crop plants that can't be seen with the naked eye.
"We grow the crops in the plots out in our fields, then we go in there and take photos at certain point in time so we don't have to sacrifice the plants to get information on them," he said.
"Later we can do statistical models from which we can gather the growth and other different agronomic traits, and we pick the best ones and introduce them to plant breeders and researchers."
Originally from Hanoi in Vietnam, Dr Nguyen finished his postdoctoral research on plant breeding at Kyushu University in Japan.
Before that he did research at Cold Spring Harbor laboratory in the USA and did his PhD at the University of Sydney.
He said he was happy to be working in the Wimmera.
"At first I was not too sure about moving to Horsham as it was a long way away from cosmopolitan cities, but actually it's not too far and there are a lot of opportunities to advance my career," he said.
"The most important thing is we have access to facilities to do our work, and we are well supported here."
Genebank manager Dr Sally Norton said the centre had sent out more than 100,000 seed samples to researchers across the country since opening in 2014.
Related: Genebank opens in Horsham
"They are looking for characteristics such as pest and frost resistance and improved yield," she said.
"In new varieties of crop now in the pipeline, there will be parts of the materials we have here."
Wimmera scientists from all walks of life
When Mark Phelan started at Baden Aniline and Soda Factory's Wheat and Oilseed Breeding Centre in Longerenong in 2006, the southern Mallee didn't really grow canola.
It does now, thanks in no small part to his work as leading agronomist for canola breeding.
"We have nearly half the rainfall of what the Wimmera would receive," said Mr Phelan, who grew up on a farm in Beulah. "The Mallee didn't grow a lot of canola back when it was first released as it was more for a wet climate.
"That's something we've been able to turn around by breeding different varieties - so now Mallee farmers have the option of putting that crop in their rotations. You can't really breed for drought resistance, but crop water use efficiency is a lot better than what it used to be."
Mr Phelan said he and his team were now looking at developing herbicide-resistant canola crops.
"TruFlex is a new tool we're going to hit the market with coming from this season," he said. "A lot of the traditional herbicides were put out in two applications - one really early and one before things really got going and that's all you had, whereas now some of the technologies we're coming out with we can actually spray right up to flowering time, so farmers can take care of late-germinating Ryegrass."
Mr Phelan studied a diploma in rural business management at Longerenong College via correspondence, but said his training was mostly hands-on. He said he enjoyed being able to teach college students in the same way.
"When they're out in the paddock, you talk to them and I think they feel it's a bit of same old, same old in the classroom," he said.
"The things students like, I've learned, is interacting with the industry and the cutting edge technology. You're actually being part of the new technology that's going to be given to them in the future. Being part of that was always the driving force for me."
Mr Phelan has also used his life experience to design and build machines to test the effectiveness of the new varieties of crop the facility produces.
Julia Bouckley, a cereal pathologist, has joined Mr Phelan at BASF.
She is working to create new varieties of wheat resistant to rust. The 22-year-old is in her first job out of university, having grown up in Melbourne and studied a bachelor of agriculture at the University of Melbourne.
"It's a bit of a jump, not growing up in the agricultural community, but I really enjoyed studying chemistry and biology and school and I saw agriculture as a more practical application of those skills. You could help people with science and see the real result out in the paddock," she said.
"Doing my degree, there were actually more females in my course than males - which was surprising. It was also good to get all those connections from the city and the country.
"Moving from Melbourne up here was a bit of a scary jump, but it's something girls have to do. They have to try to get out into the field as much as possible and get the experience that is there. Looking for mentors is really important as well."
Several other companies conduct scientific research in the Wimmera. Among them are Nuseed, where researchers are working to develop new canola varieties out of its Horsham facility, The Grains Innovation Park, and Eurofins Agroscience Services, which conducts cropping safety and residue trials at its facility on Horsham's Plumpton Road.
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