Recognition for four outstanding QAAFI researchers

17 July 2023

Completing a PhD is a marathon.

But to receive a Dean’s Award for an Outstanding HDR thesis adds another degree of difficulty.

That achievement is a reality for four QAAFI graduates, three from the Centre for Horticultural Science and one from the Centre for Nutrition and Food Science.

The Dean’s Award for Outstanding Higher Degree by Research Theses formally recognises outstanding PhD and MPhil graduates who have been commended by their thesis examiners for their outstanding contribution.

Dr Jane Ray kneeling in the field
Dr Jane Ray

Dr Jane Ray‘s research in the Centre for Horticultural Science focused on the biology and epidemiology of banana Blood disease, a bacterial wilt threatening production of the fruit in South-east Asia, Australia and beyond.

“Not many people can say that they thoroughly enjoyed their PhD experience, but I absolutely did,” Dr Ray said.

“This is because of the talent that QAAFI attracts and retains – it’s the human resource that makes all the difference.

“It’s such an honour to receive this award, and I will forever be grateful to my fabulous advisory team of Professor André Drenth, Professor Siti Subandiyah, Dr Lilia Carvalhais, and Dr Alistair McTaggart.”

Dr Ray is now leading a project researching Australia’s bacterial wilts and working towards leading larger collaborative projects researching plant diseases of biosecurity importance to Australia.

Dr Ritesh Jain spraying a plant in a lab setting
Dr Ritesh Jain

Fellow Centre for Horticultural Science graduate Dr Ritesh Jain’s research focused on insect pest management.

He developed a clay mediated RNA delivery platform for targeting white flies (Bemisia tabaci).

“My experience at QAAFI has allowed me to engage in ground-breaking research, collaborate with expert minds and contribute to the advance of knowledge in my field,” Dr Jain said.

“Receiving a Dean’s Award after a tremendous amount of hard work is an indescribable feeling of joy motivation and gratitude.”

Dr Jain is now working in Australian Contract Development and Manufacturing (CDMO) organisation specialising in the production of nucleic acid (plasmid DNA & mRNA) products and applying his expertise in molecular biology skills to nucleic acid R&D. 

A third Centre for Horticultural Science graduate Kandeeparoopan Prasannath worked on the project “Etiology of flower blight complex in macadamia” under the supervision of Associate Professor Femi Akinsanmi.

Dr  Kandeeparoopan Prasannath

The research provided a strong foundation for developing a disease prediction tool for the management of flower blights in Australia, to help mitigate the economic losses incurred by the flower blights in the Australian macadamia industry.

Dr Prasannath said he was deeply honoured to receive such a prestigious award, a pay off for all his hard work.

“QAAFI is the place that enriched my academic and research capabilities, and I had a fantastic experience there,” he said.

“Even though I am offshore now, my collaborative work with Associate Professor Akinsanmi will continue, as I work as a Senior Lecturer in one of the state universities in my home country, Sri Lanka.”

Dr Selina Fyfe from the Centre for Nutrition and Food Science was awarded for her work characterising the potential of the green plum (Buchanania obovata) as a native Australian fruit.

Dr Selina Fyfe with hands clasped in front of her smiling
Dr Selina Fyfe at UQ 

As well as her academic supervisors from UQ, Professor Yasmina Sultanbawa and Associate Professor Heather Smyth, Associate Professor Horst Schirra from Griffith University and her collaborators from two universities in Munich, she worked with two Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory where green plums grow.

“At QAAFI I discovered how much I enjoyed research and writing and was given opportunities to really grow these skills, and do a lot of things to grow my research career,” Dr Fyfe said.

“I feel very happy and excited to receive the award and it was nice to have all my hard work acknowledged and celebrated in this way.”

She is now working as a Research Fellow on The University of Queensland and CSIRO’s Food System Horizons project.

Media: QAAFI Communications, Natalie MacGregor,, +61 409 135 651.

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.