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Our next-generation scientists are working on a better tomorrow

About

  • Date

    13 August, 2018

About

Date

13 August, 2018

Astronaut. Teacher. Doctor. Weed Scientist. You won’t typically see one of these things on the list of future aspirations for science-minded youth. But with research showing that the youngest generation in the workforce is looking for careers that allow them to learn, grow, and make a difference in the world, it isn’t hard to see how some of them find their way to weed science – even when they start out in different fields! 
Zelong Lim

“My interest in chemistry has always been in how it can be used to help people,” said Zelong Lim who has a medical background and has worked in chemotherapeutics. “I’m excited to be able to apply and adapt the problem-solving and research skills I have to weed management, where there are big challenges and a real need for innovation.”

Zelong works with fellow Australian PhD chemists Andrew Tang and Alexandra Manos-Turveyy at Bayer’s Weed Resistance Competence Center in Frankfurt.  Their work is part of the Herbicide Innovation Partnership between Bayer and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). This German Australian partnership aims to discover and develop future weed management solutions.

Controlling weeds is one of the toughest challenges farmers face. There are approximately 30,000 weeds that compete with crops. Without being able to control them, production could reduce by as much as one-third meaning more land would be needed to grow the same amount, food prices could rise, or few people could have access to food.

Andrew Tang

Andrew also sees a personal challenge in his work: “It was clear to me that securing our food supply would be an important priority in the future. Between a growing population and an increasingly unpredictable climate, it will be necessary to continue growing food efficiently.”

“The opportunity to work in a completely new research area, particularly helping farmers keep us stocked in food for the future, was a big drawcard for me. Strangely enough though, the transition from medchem to agrochem hasn’t been too tough, as the core chemistry knowledge and skills remain the same. It’s just that our target is different: instead of an unwanted disease, now an unwanted weed!” adds Alexandra.

So what can we expect? Zelong describes his work like this: “I’m polishing nuggets to see whether they may contain gold. If a compound we’re working on shows there is a lot of upside, then further time and
resources will be invested for it to be refined,
molded into something useful,
and hopefully polished into a very valuable product!”

 “My expectation is that there will be new herbicides that improve on what is now available to farmers,” adds Andrew. “My personal aspiration is that one of the molecules that I make becomes one of those new herbicides. I think that chemical strategies will remain an important feature in weed management for the indefinite future.”

If that doesn’t work, he’s already thought of a plan B. “Weeds are meant to be edible so that can be a backup plan if we lose the battle against them.”

Alexandra Manos-Turvey

Their fresh approach to solving problems, passion for making a difference, and diverse backgrounds are making an impact on their fellow colleagues. As Andrew puts it, “Herbicide research and development is a big collaborative effort involving many people with specialized skills”

When it comes to solving the challenges of weed management, Zelong says that diversity is the future and that it pays off to collaborate. “I believe research in agriculture as well as in other industries could benefit from adopting similar schemes that promote different sectors sharing strengths and aligning goals.”

Alexandra adds, “The ability to go to colleagues with problems and find them to be so approachable and open to discussion, ready to help out, is really something that I appreciate.”

These young scientists may not have envisioned a future in weed science when they were growing up. But they’re finding the opportunities to make a difference that so many of their peers are seeking. And their way of shaping integrated weed control is driving positive change that will help future generations of farmers.  

About

Date

13 August, 2018

Grains Research and Development Corporation

Learn more about Bayer’s partner in Australia.