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Decades protecting world's crops yields the Clarke Medal for Professor Park


6 May 2015

Professor Robert Park is being recognised for his more than three decades of research dedicated to protecting crops from pathogens.
Professor Robert Park is being recognised for his more than three decades of research dedicated to protecting crops from pathogens.

For his work on protecting the security of crops worldwide Professor Robert Park has today won the Clarke Medal in botany.

The Clarke Medal is awarded every year by the Royal Society of New South Wales for distinguished work in the natural sciences.

Professor Park, from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, holds the Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and is the Director of Cereal Rust Research.

The Clarke Medal is currently awarded annually for distinguished work in the Natural Sciences (geology, botany and zoology) done in "the Australian commonwealth and its territories".

The Medal, which alternates every three years between the fields of geology, zoology and botany, has been awarded over 50 times since 1878. Sir Douglas Mawson is its most famous recipient.

Professor Park is being recognised for his more than three decades of research dedicated to protecting crops from pathogens.

For his entire career, he has been tackling cereal rusts, a group of fungal parasites, through the development of resistant crop cultivars. Rusts pose a major biosecurity threat because of their ability to develop suddenly and spread rapidly and widely.

His research on the Australia-wide population genetics of four major rusts in cereals has provided the basis for national resistance breeding efforts for the past two decades.

Genetic resistance to rust diseases in wheat alone was estimated to save Australia more than $AUD1billion in 2009.

"I am delighted by this award. I hope it raises the awareness of the urgency of crop protection. Demand for wheat is expected to rise by more than 1.5 percent every year in the next five years," said Professor Park.

Professor Park is also involved in the global effort to tackle a new race of stem rust, known as Ug99, which has emerged in several east African countries in recent years. There is a high risk of Ug99 spreading across to India in the immediate future and scope for it to even find its way to Australia.

Awarded an Alexander von Humboldt research award in Germany in 1995 and a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to the United States in 2010, Professor Park was also awarded China's highest honour for a foreign expert, the Friendship Award, in 2009.

He has worked throughout the world and currently leads the Australian Cereal Rust Research Program, directing a team of 20 scientists at the University of Adelaide, CSIRO and in Mexico.

The Clarke Medal was founded in memory of the Reverend William Branwhite Clarke, one of the founders of the Royal Society of New South Wales.


Contact: Verity Leatherdale

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