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9 Jan 2019

Dr Brett Summerell celebrates 30 years of science at the Garden

Dr Brett Summerell is our Director of Science and Conservation and a passionate 'fun-guy'. Today he adds another milestone to his impressive career by celebrating 30 years of performing vital scientific research at the Garden. 

From top ranking student... 

Brett Summerell has been collecting fungi and plants his entire life and always loved getting out into the Australian bush. It was this enthusiasm that led him to study a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Sydney in 1985 where he also won the University Medal as the top ranked student in that year.

In 1988 he became Dr Brett Summerell when he received his PhD under world-renowned plant pathologist Professor Lester Burgess. Just one year later on the 9th of January 1989 (30 years ago today) Dr Summerell began his career at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney as a Plant Pathologist - researching and understanding fungi that cause diseases in Australian plants.

Dr Brett Summerell at the Sydney Tropical Centre (now The Calyx) in 1994 implementing biological control programs to control insect pests affecting the living collection. 

...To fungi expert 

Dr Summerell is now considered one of Australia’s foremost experts on the deadly Fusarium pathogen which can wreak havoc on our food crops and native plants.

He often travels around the world to teach people how to recognise Fusarium and other plant pathogens as they emerge in crops. 

In fact, Dr Summerell just came back to the Garden after spending five months at Kansas State University as the 2017-2018 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The fuzzy white substance is the deadly Fusarium oxysporum plant pathogen that can destroy food crops. 

Leading and growing the Garden's science 

In 2004, Dr Summerell became the Director of Science and Conservation of Australia’s oldest living scientific institution - the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

His work leading over 100 scientists, students, volunteers and support staff in the Science division over the last 15 years has continued and improved upon the Garden’s legacy of studying, documenting and protecting plant life in Australia for over 200 years. 

Some of the key scientific initiatives Dr Summerell is proud of include the establishment of the PlantClinic at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and the Australian PlantBank facility at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

"The people, the vital science we do and the places we look after is why I have dedicated 30 years of my career at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney," said Dr Summerell. 

Dr Brett Summerell at the secret Wollemi Pine site in Wollemi Pine National Park collecting soil samples to test for the presence of the deadly Phytophthora disease in 2004. The pathogen was detected there and is a major threat to the survival of the Wollemi Pine.   
We have a role in promoting why plants are important for people, what plants do for the ecosystem, why diversity of plants is important. We need to ensure people understand why they need to protect plants so they are there in the future.
Dr Brett Summerell

Discovering new species and inspiring the next generation

To date, Dr Summerell has also published 150+ journal articles, books and book chapters and he has helped describe over 120 new species of fungi, including species of commercial agricultural importance and those from exotic plants and locations.

His leadership and research at the Garden and his outreach to fellow scientists and the general public through Fusarium Laboratory workshops and non-technical presentations for the general public bring science to life. 

Please join us in congratulating Dr Summerell on his incredible 30 year milestone with the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. 

Listen to our podcast featuring Dr Summerell

Category: Science
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