Plant research focus of Macfarlane Burnet Lecture

Professor Graham Farquhar delivering the Macfarlane Burnet Lecture

Professor Graham Farquhar AO FAA FRS is this year’s recipient of the Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture. Professor Farquhar, from the Australian National University, presented the Macfarlane Burnet Lecture on ‘Using simple mathematics to explore the plant-atmosphere exchange of carbon dioxide, oxygen and water vapour’ at the Academy's Science at the Shine Dome event in Canberra in May.

The Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture is the Academy’s highest award in the biological sciences. Presented every second year, it is awarded in recognition of research of the highest standing in the biological sciences, and commemorates the contributions to science by Nobel Laureate Sir Macfarlane Burnet OM KBE FAA FRS.

In his lecture, Professor Farquhar explained how plants have an exquisite sense of their environment and remarkable coordination in their responses. His discovery is that simple mathematical treatments based on physical, chemical or economic models give order to our observations of plant behaviour, allowing us to make predictions, including about the effects of environmental or genetic perturbations. He discussed plant growth in a changing climate: predicted and observed multi-decadal changes in carbon dioxide concentration, precipitation and crop demand for water.

He emphasised that modern day research in plant physiology involves physics, mathematics, chemistry, botany, molecular biology, micrometeorology, soil science and other fields, and that theoretical plant physiology is starting to develop but needs to be strongly connected to experimental studies.

More about the Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture

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