Top Australia Day honour for scientist

Leading La Trobe University biochemist and co-founder of the Australian biotechnology company Hexima, Professor Marilyn Anderson, has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia, the second-highest ranking award in yesterday's Australia Day Honours list.

Professor Anderson's work is based on plant immunity, focusing on antifungal and insecticidal molecules, circular peptides, cell walls and plant biotechnology to help fight diseases that cause major crop losses world wide.

A highly imaginative scientist, she has recently been in the limelight for work that aims to turn plants into pharmaceutical 'factories' to produce more cheaply potent next-generation medicine for human diseases.

After gaining her BSc Honours from the University of Melbourne and her PhD in Biochemistry from La Trobe University, she spent seven years in the United States working on diabetes and cancer genes at the University of Miami and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

In 1995 she set up a laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry at La Trobe studying defence molecules produced by plants to protect them against insect pests and disease.

Applications for agriculture and pharmaceuticals

Hexima Limited, of which Professor Anderson has been Chief Science Officer since 2009, is now developing applications of this work for agricultural and pharmaceutical industries world-wide.

Founded by Professor Anderson and La Trobe Chancellor and former CSIRO head, Professor Adrienne Clarke, Hexima is located on La Trobe's Melbourne Campus where it has a series of glasshouses for making transgenic crops with increased tolerance against fungal disease.

A senior scientist at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS), Professor Anderson is Charles La Trobe Fellow at the University, as well as a Fellow of both the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

Late last year she and her colleague, former La Trobe graduate Professor David Craik from the University of Queensland, were awarded a $1million research grant from the Ramaciotti Foundation to develop new technologies for creating pharmaceuticals in plants.

'This research has great potential to provide medicines inexpensively for patients in both the developed and developing worlds, Professor Anderson said.

Contact: Professor Anderson 03 9479 1255 or email,
or Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, 0412 261 919.