A well-deserved congratulations to two of our scientists here at the Waite who were recently elected to the Australian Academy of Science. They are among the 21 new Fellows for 2016 elected nationally for their significant contributions and lasting impact to science.

Emeritus Professor Geoff Fincher was recognised for his outstanding research on plant cell walls and scientific leadership. He has made a distinguished contribution to cereal chemistry and the grains industry through his work on the structure, biosynthesis and digestion of plant cell walls. His research culminated with the establishment of the ARC Centre of Excellence in 2011.

Plant cell walls are the most abundant source of renewable energy. They have a major role in human and animal nutrition and sources of biofuels and biopolymers. Professor Fincher’s work has impacted on all of these applications. He discovered many of the enzymes involved in the synthesis and degradation of the cell wall polysaccharides of barley, particularly the beta-glucans that have a key role in the brewing industry and human nutrition.

“Being elected to fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science is the ultimate honour for an Australian scientist,” says Professor Fincher. “I have been most fortunate to have had the support of many enthusiastic and talented young PhD students and postdoctoral fellows over many years, together with fantastic support from the University of Adelaide, the South Australian Government, and the Australian Research Council.”

Affiliate Professor Anna Koltunow (CSIRO) was recognised for her outstanding research on mechanisms of fruit and seed production in plants, in particular apomixis (an asexual form of seed formation in plants).

Her work has led to the understanding of mechanisms controlling seedless fruit formation and produced seedless fruit in tomato and citrus. Her pioneering work in apomixis, developing and using an apomict species where remarkably, female gametes form without meiosis, and seeds develop in the absence of paternal fertilization as a genetic and molecular model has identified similarities and differences in the mechanisms controlling apomixis and sexual seed formation. Dr Koltunow’s discoveries are being used in developing crops with transformational productivity improvements in developing countries.

“Being elected to the academy is just fabulous. It’s truly an honour for me to have been elected,” says Dr Koltunow. “Science is all about teamwork so my election really reflects on all of the people in my lab – postdocs, technicians, students who have really contributed to the body of work which got me elected to the academy. Great science comes about with great collaborations.”

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