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Royal accolade for agricultural scientist

A career committed to academic excellence through improving crop productivity to benefit many countries has earned Professor Rajeev Varshney the prestigious accolade of Fellow of the Royal Society.
Photo: Evan Collis

Professor Rajeev Varshney’s recent election as a Fellow of the Royal Society stands as a testament to his dedication to academic excellence.

Through this appointment, he joins the ranks of esteemed scientists and researchers from around the world including Sir David Attenborough, Norman Borlaug, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Dorothy Hodgkin.

Professor Varshney says he feels humbled and honoured to join the ranks of such revered scientists.

“To be given the same honour as Norman Borlaug is humbling, as he was a key influence in my career choice,” Professor Varshney says.

Having grown up in regional India, where he saw subsistence farmers struggle to make financial gains, Professor Varshney has an affinity for improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.

This value was reinforced further for Professor Varshney early in his career, when he met Dr Borlaug at a conference in Italy in 2003. Dr Borlaug was instrumental in leading the Green Revolution that contributed to saving millions of lives in South Asia in the late 1960s.

The Royal Society, founded in the UK in 1660, is the oldest and most-prestigious continuously operating scientific academy in the world. Eighty-five Nobel Laureates are within its ranks, together with some of the world’s most-distinguished scientific thought leaders.

The society’s fundamental purpose is to recognise, promote and support excellence in science and to encourage development and use of science to benefit humanity.

As an expert in crop genomics, genetics, molecular breeding and capacity building in developing countries, Professor Varshney is the third scientist from Australia and the fourth from India to join the prestigious organisation from the field of agricultural sciences and forestry – one of just 13 agricultural scientists worldwide. He is the fifth scientist from Western Australia to be elected from any discipline.

Professor Varshney is currently director of Murdoch University’s Centre for Crop and Food Innovation, director of the Western Australian State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, as well as international chair in agriculture and food security at Murdoch University’s Food Futures Institute.

Prior to these positions, he worked for 17 years at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, before joining Murdoch University. He has earned fellowships to several science academies and societies, many international awards and holds greater than 10 adjunct, honorary and visiting professor positions in Australia, China, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, India and the US.

His plant improvement work has benefited Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Through his considerable number of scientific publications, he is a Clarivate Analytics highly cited researcher for the past nine years in a row. Clarivate is a British-American analytics company that assess the impact factor of scientific publications.

“Science knows no boundaries,” Professor Varshney says.

“For instance, my research group has received GRDC investment to develop genetic solutions to boost wheat and chickpea production under a range of agronomic and abiotic stresses by developing and deploying novel genomics and pre-breeding approaches.

“These genetic solutions will improve agriculture and benefit our growers in Australia. They are also translatable and will have spill-over effects to improve crop productivity of wheat and chickpeas in similar environments in India and other regions of Asia and Africa.”

Professor Varshney is looking forward to establishing and contributing to a nationwide initiative to accelerate genetic gains in crop improvement. He is also targeting Australian crop production challenges in his roles at Murdoch University, while exploring opportunities to promote science through the Fellowship with the Royal Society.

More information: Rajeev Varshney, 0438 742 294 or 08 9360 2608,

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