29 October 2013

Professor Geoff Fincher has dedicated his life to gaining a greater understanding of plant cell walls and their biology.

A plant cell wall is the structure surrounding a plant cell that provides a number of functions, including: strength to support the plant, flexibility, water-proofing, a barrier to pests and protection against environmental stress.

Cell wall composition determines the quality of most plant-based products used in modern human societies. Nutritional and processing properties of plant-based foods are heavily influenced by wall properties. Fibres for textiles, pulp and paper manufacture, timber products and now, for fuel and bio-composite manufacture, are largely composed of, or derived from, cell walls1.

As a young scientist Professor Fincher had great foresight, he knew he wanted to be part of the solution to a great problem.

“I realised as a young scientist that feeding the world was going to be an ongoing challenge and that cereal science would be an important contributor to solving the problem.

“My early interest in carbohydrate biochemistry led to an interest in plant cell walls.

“It was only after the importance of cell wall polysaccharides, as constituents of dietary fibre was shown, that our work started attracting interest from food industries, in the context of reducing the risk of serious human health disorders, such as type II diabetes, colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

It is this dedication and foresight that has been recognised on the world stage with Professor Fincher recently awarded the prestigious Thomas Burr Osborne Medal.

The award, established in 1926, recognises distinguished contributions in the field of cereal chemistry and was named after the outstanding protein chemist Thomas Burr Osborne, who received the first award in 1928.

Professor Fincher was also excited to find out at the ceremony, held in the USA, that he had been accepted as a Fellow of the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) International.

Professor Fincher is the Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls and Professor of Plant Science at the University of Adelaide.

He said the Medal and acceptance as a Fellow were great honours.

“The Award is enormously important, because it recognises the hard work and dedication of many postdoctoral scientists and postgraduate students who have worked in my lab over many years.

“Within the Centre we have enthusiastic groups at the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne and Queensland who are continuing to push the boundaries of scientific discovery.

“To have their efforts acknowledged by the leading cereal chemistry association in the world is quite simply fantastic!” Professor Fincher said.

ARC CEO, Professor Aidan Byrne, also congratulated Professor Fincher on his recent achievements.

“The ARC values Professor Fincher’s extensive and continuing contribution to plant science, in particular cell wall biology.

“I am extremely pleased that his outstanding achievements in this field have been recognised with this prestigious award.

“The ARC is proud to support Professor Fincher’s research efforts, in particular the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls.”

And it is onward and upward for Professor Fincher, his work moving forward involves detailed work within the Centre tackling some of the major unanswered questions in cell wall biology.

“We are doing this in collaboration with international partner organisations and plan to continue to focus on our ‘heroic’ research targets.

“However, it is also very satisfying to have representatives of the malting and brewing industries, food companies and the biofuels industries seek out our help in solving industrial problems.”

Asked what he would like his lasting legacy in scientific research to be, Professor Fincher continues to use the foresight that was so instrumental in his entrance to this field of research.
“If we are remembered for undertaking high quality and internationally competitive science, coupled eventually with at least some applications of the outcomes in our basic research activities in areas such as human health and the amelioration of the effects of climate change, I will be very happy indeed.”

To find out more about the work of Professor Fincher and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls please email or phone 08 8313 1284.

1 Source: ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cells Walls website.


Image courtesy AACC International. L to R: Dr Deborah Rogers, Chair of the AACC International Board, Professor Geoff Fincher and Dr David Hahn, President of AACC International at the award ceremony.