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31 Oct 2018

Dr Cathy Offord wins NSW Premier’s Prize for Science

Performing over 30 years of vital scientific work to protect threatened plants has landed Dr Cathy Offord the 2018 NSW Premier’s Prize for Innovation in NSW Public Sector Science and Engineering.

A pioneering conservationist

Dr Offord is a Principal Research Scientist based at the Australian PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden and a globally recognised conservation biologist whose work is at the forefront of international best practice.

The NSW Premier’s Prizes acknowledges excellence in science and engineering and Dr Offord has been recognised as a leading researcher for her cutting-edge work that has generated environmental benefits on a global scale.

Over her 30-year career with the Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands she has made major innovative contributions to the science and management of threatened plant species in NSW, and has published more than 130 peer-reviewed and edited publications.

“I grew up in far western NSW and I was influenced by my science teacher mother and my deep exposure to Australian flora and fauna, which led me to study biology and agriculture from a young age,” Dr Offord said.

“It is an absolute honour for my achievements to be recognised by this prestigious award and I would like to thank my colleagues for their support over the years,” Dr Offord said.

Jo White, Director of Science and Conservation at the Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands accepted Dr Offord’s Prize on her behalf at the awards evening at Government House last night in Sydney.

“Dr Offord is a dedicated and passionate scientist and on behalf of the entire organisation I congratulate her for this significant achievement,” Ms White said.

“Her commitment to plant science and outstanding conservation results are an inspiration to the scientific community and the next generation of researchers,” said Ms White.

Dr Cathy Offord inside the Australian PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden.
Dr Offord’s research to save Australia’s ‘living fossil’

Management of threatened species is a major environmental challenge and Dr Offord’s work is integral to the NSW Government’s Saving our Species initiatives.

It is Dr Offord’s research which has been vital in establishing the iconic Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) as a global model for threatened species management.

“Since the Wollemi Pine was discovered in 1995, it has been one of my greatest passions,” Dr Offord said.

“My research over the last 23 years has established methods for ex situ conservation, propagation, growing and conservation of this critically endangered conifer.

“This involves growing seedlings from the natural population in a controlled environment and researching the biological aspects of its growth in the wild,” Dr Offord said.

Through my work, the Wollemi Pine is now in gardens around the world, and has been successfully translocated to the wild
Dr Cathy Offord
No Plants No Past – protecting our prehistoric pine

Dr Offord also features in episode four of our Branch Out podcast. Listen to the No Plants No Past episode below or read about it in our blog to get an insight into this curious conifer and Dr Offord’s research.  

Establishing a hub for plant conservation in NSW

Dr Offord’s efforts are also largely responsible for the establishment of the Australian PlantBank in 2013, an integrated plant science facility which incorporates the NSW Seedbank, tissue culture and cryo-storage facilities.

“The Australian PlantBank is a hub for plant conservation in NSW and provides an insurance policy against extinction of native plants in the wild,” Dr Offord said.

“I am so proud of establishing this world-class facility with my colleagues and I invite people to take a tour when they next visit the Australian Botanic Garden to see scientists in action,” Dr Offord said. 

Dr Offord is also at the helm of one of the Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parkland's most crucial plant projects, the Rainforest Seed Conservation Project.

“This project is fundamental in advancing our knowledge and ability in the storage of seeds from around Australia, making it a vital aspect of the overall conservation of our plant and animal life,” Dr Offord said.

“My team and I are focused on developing technology for ex situ seed and tissue banking of rainforest species through cryo-storage, which will enable significant advances in conservation of NSW native flora,” Dr Offord said. 

Waratah and Flannel flowers – safeguarding our icons

Dr Offord began her research with a focus on propagating NSW’s own Waratah (Telopea) and that fascination led her to another key Australian species, the Flannel flower. 

In 1998, Dr Offord’s team won the NSW Premier’s Prize for Industry and the Environment for the development of the Flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi) as a sustainable crop.

“Following that award, I went on to release a Flannel flower variety called ‘Starbright’PBR in 1999, which has become industry standard,” Dr Offord said.

Inspiring the next generation

Dr Offord is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney within the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, inspiring and shaping the next generation of plant scientists and conservationists.

She is a fantastic science communicator and has appeared regularly on Australian television programs such as Quantum, Gardening Australia and Totally Wild.

You can follow Dr Cathy Offord and her updates on Twitter: @ApsaraCat

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