New 'Top Talent' appointment to lead plant synthetic biology research
The University of Adelaide has appointed California-based scientist Dr Jenny Mortimer as the new Associate Professor of Plant Synthetic Biology, part of the Top Talent program to attract the world’s best minds to South Australia.
The ‘Investing in Top Talent’ program in the University’s Strategic Plan, Future Making, is designed to attract a cohort of new high-performing, world-leading researchers across a range of areas to Adelaide.
Professor Keith Jones, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Sciences, said Dr Mortimer (pictured) had been appointed following an international search, reinforcing the University’s commitment to delivering world-class research with tangible outputs of global significance.
“The new position in Plant Synthetic Biology has been created to provide academic and research leadership within the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine and the School of Biological Sciences,” he said.
“Dr Mortimer will bring to Adelaide her knowledge and experience in synthetic biology, which applies the principles of engineering, such as standardised parts and design, to biology."Professor Keith Jones, Executive Dean - Faculty of Sciences
“Dr Mortimer will bring to Adelaide her knowledge and experience in synthetic biology, which applies the principles of engineering, such as standardised parts and design, to biology.
“This can be a powerful research tool to help us to understand how plants work; it can be used to breed improved crops, in conjunction with other breeding tools, in a targeted and rapid fashion.”
Dr Mortimer said plant synthetic biology was a new but growing area, with the agricultural industry set to benefit the most from this emerging science.
“Graduating students with deep knowledge of plant synthetic biology will be highly employable, not just in existing agricultural companies, but also the growing number of agricultural biotechnology start-ups,” she said.
“It is also a very complex area of science, at the intersection of food, energy, climate change, and the environment.
"Informed students will be well equipped to contribute to important policy discussions. For industry it can allow the clean introduction of new traits into elite varietals, without years of back-crossing.
“There are many technical hurdles to be overcome before this application of synthetic biology is routine, which is why we need to actively research it now.”
Dr Mortimer said she was particularly interested in the use of plant biomass to replace materials that are currently made from oil, and was excited to join the already thriving Australian research community on this topic.
“I also want to reduce crop dependencies on inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation, by enhancing links between crops and the beneficial microbes that live in the soil,” she said.
“This requires a deep understanding of what drives these complex underground conversations, and synthetic biology is an exciting tool to do this.”
The University of Adelaide has an international reputation for conducting world-leading research across a wide spectrum of areas. It is consistently ranked in the top 1% of universities worldwide, and is a member of the Group of Eight; a coalition of Australia’s foremost research-intensive universities.
Dr Mortimer will commence in the Associate Professor of Plant Synthetic Biology role in January 2021.
About Dr Jenny Mortimer
- Dr Jenny Mortimer is a Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California. She leads the Plant Systems Biology Group which seeks to understand how plants use the products of photosynthesis – simple sugars – to build complex biological molecules. This knowledge is being used to produce renewable, sustainable, fuels and biochemicals from plant biomass.
- Dr Mortimer is also co-leading the LBNL EcoPOD team, which is bridging the scale and complexity gap between laboratory and field plant-microbe-soil research. The EcoPOD project is helping researchers to test and model sustainable agriculture, and promote healthy soils. She was selected as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist in 2016 and 2017.