Appointment to Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture

23 July 2013

The Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, Professor Mark Adams is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Robert Park to the Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture.

Prof. Park is also the Director of Cereal Rust Research at the University of Sydney Plant Breeding Institute, and leads the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program, which involves 15 scientists across research nodes at CSIRO Plant Industry, University of Adelaide, and the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre in Mexico. His group at the University of Sydney is a world leader in seeking genetic solutions to rust control in cereals. Prof. Park has conducted Australia-wide race analysis surveys for wheat, barley and oat rust pathogens for the past 25 years. His research interests include genetic variability in all cereal rust pathogens and the genetics of resistance to these diseases in their respective hosts. He has worked extensively in international agriculture, with particularly strong collaborative links with colleagues in East Africa, China, and South Asia.

"I am delighted that Prof. Park is taking up the Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture. He is a highly respected scientist, whose work fits very well with the aims of Judith and David Coffey," said Prof. Adams.

According to Prof. Park, "Plants are the basis of all life on earth, and the wellbeing of all humans is entirely dependent on them. Since the dawn of humanity, plants have at one time or another provided all of the essential things we need to survive: clean air, clean water, food, clothing, and shelter from the elements. Without plants, there can be no food security".

The rusts that Robert's work targets are a group of fungal parasites that are of particularly high biosecurity concern because of their ability to develop explosively in crops and to spread rapidly. Rust infected crops produce billions of microscopic spores that are highly adapted to wind dispersal. These spores can be blown across thousands of kilometres, and are known to have spread on wind currents from southern Africa to Australia. A single epidemic of stem rust in wheat in Australia in 1973 caused some AUD$300 million in damage.

Professor Robert Park
Professor Robert Park

"Meeting future increases in demand for wheat, predicted to increase by more than 1.5% annually up to 2020, will require new, sustainable strategies to protect our crops against yield robbing pathogens like the rust diseases. While finding sustainable solutions to hunger and food security is daunting, I firmly believe that it is achievable. I further believe we as global citizens have a duty of care to ensure the "justice of eating" for all of humankind."

"Knowing the enemy is a huge advantage in any battle, and we are now using new genome sequencing technologies to gain deep insights into how rust pathogens interact with their hosts. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop new strategies to control rust pathogens in wheat, barley and oats, by determining how they overcome genetic resistance in their hosts".

"Successful science is by essence collaborative, and I have been most fortunate to develop strong and productive research alliances with many international scientists, especially in China," said Prof. Park.

Prof. Park completed a PhD in plant pathology at La Trobe University in 1984. Since graduating, he has worked on rust diseases of cereals. He was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt research award in Germany in 1995, and a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to the USA in 2010. In recognition of his work in China, he was awarded the Friendship Award of China in 2009. This is the highest honour that the Chinese Government bestows on foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to China.

Robert has published two books, four book chapters, and more than 100 referred journal papers. He is a regular speaker at International conferences, and has delivered 11 invited keynote addresses on his work with cereal rusts. He has served on the editorial boards of Mycological Research (1996-2003) and the Australian Journal of Agricultural Research (1.132; 2001-2008), and is currently a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Applied Genetics (2004-), Annals of Applied Biology (2008-), and Crop and Pasture Science (2009-).

The former holder of this position, Professor John Crawford, is on secondment to the Charles Perkins Centre.

Contact: Professor Robert Park

Email: 3d074d2016405423103f1e2d0b1301291f4e652822325e2544