Tall Poppy for passionate plant scientist

July 28, 2015

South Australian plant scientist Dr Caitlin Byrt has been named a 2015 South Australian Tall Poppy.

The prestigious Young Tall Poppy Science Award recognises Dr Byrt’s work at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University of Adelaide, as well as her earlier scientific endeavours. Her recent focus has been on salt tolerance in plants.

Dr Byrt’s research highlights have included the discovery of two genes underling salt tolerance in wheat. Her work demonstrated that the proteins coded for by these genes help to prevent toxic build up of sodium in leaves.

“Agricultural productivity faces big challenges” she says. “My research involves engineering plants to improve their productivity for the food and fuel industries. By studying how plants perceive environmental changes we can use this information to develop strategies to increase plant fitness and yield in changing environments”.

Through understanding the biology of plants Dr Byrt’s research has successfully increased the yields of wheat in saline soils. The introduction of one of the genes identified by Dr Byrt and her colleagues into durum wheat resulted in a crop capable of producing a 25% increase in yield when grown on saline soil.

Dr Byrt has also been proactively involved in science communication and outreach activity. In 2007 she was invited to contribute to the educational documentary Seed Hunter. Seed Hunter talks of the importance of genetic diversity in plant breeding in order to develop new, high yielding crops capable of coping with environmental stresses. Seed Hunter has screened internationally, has won numerous awards and is frequently used in high school science education.

“The scientific research of today directly influences the lifestyle of our children; what they eat, what they wear and how much energy they will have” says the passionate mother of two. “I believe that communicating this message and creating a positive public dialogue about science is critical for the future. I enjoy interacting with the wider community about my research and being part of public engagement programs”

The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards are presented annually by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) and aim to recognise the achievements of outstanding young Australian scientific researchers and communicators. Award winners participate in education and community outreach programs in which they become role models to inspire school students and the broader community about the possibilities of science.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to promote studying science to a wider audience as part of the Tall Poppy Campaign activities.” says Dr Byrt.

Dr Byrt was nominated for the award by her mentor and 2012 Tall Poppy Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham. “Caitlin has a real drive and curiosity” he said. “She is not afraid of stepping into the unknown and breaking new ground. Her contributions to plant science are already significant and I am confident that her future findings will reveal new ways to help our crops tolerate stressful environments”.

The South Australian Tall Poppy awards were presented last night at Government House South Australia by the Governor of SA the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO. “These young scientists are creating new ideas, employing new technology and generating new opportunities” he said.

2015 Tall Poppy Dr Caitlin Byrt, with nominator and former award recipient, Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham

2015 Tall Poppy Dr Caitlin Byrt, with nominator and former award recipient, Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham


Caitlin Byrt (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology and ARC CoE in Plant Cell Walls, Postdoctoral Fellow)
+61 8 8313 6652, caitlin.byrt@adelaide.edu.au

Karina Price (ARC CoE in Plant Energy Biology, Science Communications Officer)
+61 8  6488 4481, karina.price@plantenergy.edu.au