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1974 …2022

Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research Biography

I was awarded my PhD from Adelaide University and undertook postdoctoral studies in the United States before joining CSIRO as a Queen Elizabeth II Fellow. I subsequently moved to ANU where eventually I became Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1995. In 1999, I took up the Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Western Australia and later moved to the University of Sydney where I was Executive Dean of the Faculties of Science. I returned to Adelaide at the end of 2009 to take up the role of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) at Flinders University. I retired from management in 2015 and am now a part-time research professor in the College of Science & Engineering at Flinders University. I also served as Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra.  

Research Interests

My research focuses on plant cell physiology - how plant cells are affected by environmental stress and how they gain the nutrients they need to grow and survive. Soybean, chickpea, rice and barley are the main crop plants under investigation, and there are two main themes.

Mitochondria and oxidative stress

Plants often encounter hostile environments that place them under stress. In Australia, the main stresses are drought, high temperatures, and increasing salinity. At the level of the cell, reactive oxygen molecules (such as hydrogen peroxide) produced under these conditions act as signals to activate defence mechanisms, but they also cause cell damage. Mitochondria, the subcellular compartments involved in energy production, use oxygen to burn organic acids and produce ATP, but they also generate reactive oxygen species (ROS). My research focuses on enzymes that act in mitochondria to minimize oxidative damage. Genetically manipulating plants to make more of these enzymes alters growth and enhances plant survival under stresses like drought and high temperatures. Some of this work uses the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, but we also work with cereal and legume crops.

Symbiotic N2 fixation

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plants and is often a limiting factor in crop growth, requiring application of nitrogen fertiliser. Nitrogen fertiliser is very expensive to make and its application to crops often leads to the pollution of groundwater and waterways, as well as land degradation. Legumes like soybean and chickpea form a symbiosis with soil bacteria (rhizobia) that can convert atmospheric N2 to ammonia for use in the plant. The legume-rhizobia symbiosis allows plants to grow without the addition of N fertilisers and is one of the most economically important of all symbioses in the plant kingdom. My research investigates how the plant controls the symbiosis via transport proteins in symbiotic membranes.

Completed Supervisions

Principal Supervisions:
  • Cell and plant biology (ANU, UWA and Sydney University) (35)

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Oxidative properties of plant mitochondria, University of Adelaide


Award Date: 1 May 1975

External positions

Adjunct Professor, La Trobe University

2019 → …

Secretary for Science Policy, Australian Academy of Science

2018 → …

Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

2018 → …

Board Member, Playford Trust

2010 → …

Research Areas

  • Medical biosciences
  • Molecular biosciences

Supervisory Interests

  • Plant biology
  • Respiration in plant growth
  • Cell biology


  • Q Science (General)
  • Biochemistry
  • Plant biology
  • cell physiology


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  • FAA

    Day, David (Recipient), 2013

    Prize: Other distinction