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Murdoch scientist awarded prestigious fellowship

Professor Chengdao Li holding barley in a greenhouse

Director of Western Crop Genetics Alliance and Murdoch University Professor Chengdao Li has been named a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).

Professor Li was honoured for his exceptional work in plant genetics and breeding at Murdoch University's Food Futures Institute, helping Australia to become one of the largest barley producers and exporters in the world.

At the 2021 New Fellows ceremony, Professor Li was welcomed into a family of 900 of Australia’s most accomplished, innovative and passionate technologists, scientists, academics and advocates for positive change and progress.

Growing up in the 1960’s during a worldwide food shortage, Professor Li says he had only simple wish, that nobody in the world should suffer from hunger, inspiring his career in food production and plant breeding.

“I started my career in Western Australia as a barely breeder in the Department of Agriculture and my dream was to double the barely production in WA in 20 years. We have successfully reached this dream and have enhanced the prosperity of our rural communities,” said Professor Li.

Professor Li has since been leading research into breeding new plant species that satisfy all the requirements for consumers and producers, while ensuring plant health.

Consumers are looking for high quality, producers require high yield, and the plants need to survive in stressful environments. 

“How do we create a species that does this? Well, it’s a complicated process but essentially, we use genes. We investigate what genes control quality, yield, disease resistance and environmental tolerance and then we find out what we need to manipulate those genes,” he said.

 

Through his research, Professor Li has created an encyclopaedia of barley genes, which is now being used to assist with future plant breeding.

“We have worked on breeding technologies to make the process much faster and simpler,” said Professor Li.

Besides putting WA on the map as the largest barley producer in Australia, Professor Li says his true legacy is in training the next generation of students and scientists.

“They are our future for science and technology,” he said.

However, we still face many global challenges in maintaining food production and food safety and security.

"We are facing the problem of a growing population but available land for food production is decreasing, mostly due to climate change,” said Professor Li.

 

There is a need to form a carbon neutral food production system which requires science, technology and input from young minds. A big challenge for us is getting kids curious about STEM, especially those that don’t seem interested.

“I say it’s a challenge because it comes from my recent experience when we had the Murdoch University graduation ceremonies, where there were very few students in the Engineering and Science courses compared to Business and Commerce.”

Professor Li credits his passion towards reducing world hunger for enabling his research having impact on the prosperity of Australia. 

“It is a great honour to be a fellow in the academy. This opportunity has encouraged me to work harder in scientific revelation and research, but more importantly I treasure the opportunity to work together with my academy fellows to provide sound scientific advice to the government, industry and the community,” he said.

“I have had the opportunity to impact the next generation of scientists and young people. I will try my hardest to bring the next generation into the science, technology and engineering.” 

Professor Li calls on society, the science community and our government to engage, communicate and encourage young kids into STEM areas.

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Posted on:

29 Nov 2021

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Research

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Research at the Food Futures Institute is improving the accessibility and availability of sufficient, safe, sustainably produced and nutritious food around the world.

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