Marilyn Anderson

THE 2014 LEMBERG MEDAL: MARILYN ANDERSON

Department of Biochemistry
La Trobe University

Professor Marilyn Anderson FAA FTSE is a Professor of Biochemistry at La Trobe University and is Chief Science Officer of Hexima, an agribiotechnology company that she founded with Professor Adrienne Clarke in 1998.

Marilyn completed her BSc Hons in Biochemistry at the University of Melbourne and moved to La Trobe University with her supervisor, Professor Bruce Stone, who was the Foundation Professor of the newly established Department of Biochemistry. Her PhD studies were focused on polysaccharide hydrolases and carbohydrate chemistry. She continued her work on polysaccharide hydrolases during her first postdoctoral position at the University of Miami, but jumped into the newly emerging field of molecular biology after hearing inspiring lectures from Paul Berg, Francis Crick, James Watson and others at the annual Miami Winter Symposium. Her second postdoctoral position at the University of Miami was an introduction to the SV40 virus and oncogenes and led to a third postdoctoral position at Cold Spring Harbor with Bill Topp on the oncogenes from adenovirus. In 1982, she returned to Australia to join Professor Adrienne Clarke and set up molecular biology at the newly formed Plant Cell Biology Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. The work in the Centre led to the discovery of the genes that control self-incompatibility in flowering plants. This is a genetic system that allows the female reproductive tissue to recognise and reject self-pollen; an elegant system to ensure outbreeding and hybrid vigour in the progeny of up to half of all flowering plant species.

In 1995, Marilyn returned to the Department of Biochemistry at La Trobe University. Her current work is focussed on defence molecules produced by plants for protection against insect pests and fungal pathogens. This interest was a spin off from the work on genes that control pollination in flowering plants. She discovered that the female sexual tissues produce high concentrations of molecules which protect the reproductive capacity of the plants under adverse conditions in the field. Her current research spans the spectrum from basic work on the structure and mechanism of action of these molecules, to the practical application of creating crop plants which are protected from losses in the field due to predation and fungal disease. This practical application is being developed within the company Hexima by 30 talented scientists and students housed at La Trobe University.

Marilyn is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.