Medal for top New Zealand scientist

Published: Mon 26 Nov 2007 08:45 AM
Medal for top New Zealand scientist
Award recognises lifetime contribution to plant chemistry
Auckland, New Zealand, 23 November 2007 - HortResearch scientist Dr Robin Mitchell has been awarded The Shorland Medal for his lifetime of research into the biochemistry of plant diseases.
Named in memory of pioneering lipids and fats scientist Dr Brian Shorland, the Medal is awarded by the New Zealand Association of Scientists "For the significance and originality of a personal, lifetime contribution to basic or applied research in New Zealand".
Dr Mitchell is regarded as 'The grandfather of phytotoxin research' having spent nearly 40 years studying how compounds created by bacteria harm plants, fruits and vegetables.
His field of study is considered of vital importance to New Zealand's $2.4 billion export horticulture industry, helping growers in their efforts to produce high quality produce that earns premium prices in global markets.
Dr Mitchell graduated with BSc Hons from Otago University in 1965 and was awarded his PhD by The University of Calgary in 1969. The following year he joined the DSIR Fruit Research Division which eventually became part of HortResearch in 1992.
From an early stage of his career Dr Mitchell demonstrated great skill and insight as an organic chemist, developing a number of new methods for isolating and studying biological activity of compounds of interest. This work was recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry when it awarded him the Easterfield Medal in 1978.
More recently Dr Mitchell has studied the use of natural bacterial toxins to control the apple disease fireblight. He has also conducted ongoing research into one of the plant molecules he discovered, coronatine, which mimics the action of specific plant hormones associated with pest and disease response in plants. This work is helping further develop scientific understanding of how plants respond to attacks by fungi and bacteria, opening new possibilities for these pathogens to be controlled without the need for chemical pesticides.
HortResearch General Manager of Science Operations, Dr Bruce Campbell described Dr Mitchell's medal as welcome recognition for science of such high quality – as well as of relevance to New Zealand industry.
"Many scientists would be proud to look back and be able to point at one novel discovery that they have played a key role in - Dr Mitchell has identified no less than four different compounds/compound families that are active as toxins of bacterial plant pathogens. In doing so, he has revealed the extraordinary versatility of plant pathogens and built knowledge that promises to help New Zealand growers become more sustainable by further reducing their use of agrichemicals while continuing to grow premium produce," he said.
Dr Mitchell's medal was presented yesterday by Minister for Research, Science and Technology Pete Hodgson during a ceremony at the offices of The Royal Society in Wellington.
About HortResearch
HortResearch is a New Zealand-based science company, acknowledged as a world leader in integrated fruit research using unique resources in fruit, plants and sustainable production systems to provide novel technologies, innovative fruit and food products with high consumer appeal.
Home to extensive compound databases, as well as leading-edge scientific capability in plant breeding, tree, vine and fruit physiology, HortResearch has earned considerable acclaim as the name behind development of ZESPRI™ GOLD Kiwifruit, ENZA JAZZ™ brand apples and a range of other successful cultivars including blueberries, peaches and pears.
The company also enjoys further praise as the research team behind the development of the world's first intelligent fruit labelling system, ripeSense™ marketed by RIPESENSE Limited.
HortResearch is now broadening its commercial science capability, utilising knowledge in phytochemicals, food chemistry, sensory, biochemistry, and plant molecular biology to find new ways to improve human health, wellbeing and performance.
The company is developing breakthrough science and technology to meet emerging markets for functional foods and naturally produced flavours and fragrances.
Key food research areas include: Foods for Health, Human Health and Performance, Nutrigenomics, Formulation and Delivery, Bioproduction and Sensory and Consumer Science.
Working closely with industry, HortResearch seeks to identify the intrinsic benefits found within foods, and determine how these can be enhanced or extracted and delivered to consumers in a safe, tasty and convenient way.
Integrating fruit and food research with consumer insight and market knowledge, HortResearch produces new concepts and prototypes that meet consumer demand for healthy, novel and convenient fruit and fruit-based foods and beverages.

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