Emeritus Professor Geoff Fincher (School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, and ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls) and Professor Sarah Robertson (Robinson Research Institute) are among the new Fellows elected nationally for their significant contributions and lasting impact to science.
They will be admitted to the Academy during a formal ceremony in Canberra today, joining a total of 511 scientists in the Academy’s fellowship. At the ceremony new Fellows will sign the Academy’s Charter Book (alongside names such as Douglas Mawson, Mark Oliphant, Frank Fenner, Peter Doherty and Ian Frazer).
Emeritus Professor Geoff Fincher was elected for his research into plant cell walls. 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.
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.”
Professor Sarah Robertson, Director of the Robinson Research Institute, was elected for her research into reproductive immunology. She is a world-renowned reproductive biologist whose innovative work in reproductive immunology has formed the basis for a new understanding of the origins of health at conception.
Professor Robertson has identified specific proteins called ‘cytokines’ and immune cells that regulate embryo implantation and fetal development, and has demonstrated that male seminal fluid acts to induce adaptations in the female reproductive tract immune response that promote receptivity to pregnancy.
Her work shows that the immune system channels environmental signals from both female and male parents to contribute to reproductive success and shape offspring outcomes. These discoveries are improving practice in reproductive medicine and providing insight into early life origins of child health.
“I am really thrilled to be elected a Fellow of the Academy of Science. Reproductive science is crucial for ensuring the health of future generations and this is a wonderful recognition of our work to better understand how life begins,” says Professor Robertson. “I believe that science is more essential now than ever as a path towards solutions for the health and societal challenges that humanity faces. The Academy has an important role to ensure that science stays at the forefront of the national agenda, and I’m looking forward to participating in that effort.”