Researcher biography

Professor Anna Koltunow has a formidable record of accomplishment in plant reproduction research and translating that research into gains in agricultural sectors.

Her research focus is on the molecular and genetic mechanisms that regulate development of plant reproductive cell types and, therefore, seed and fruit formation. Accomplishments include developing seedless fruit, a sought-after commodity in the horticultural sector.

She was selected by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to head an international collaborative research venture between six research organisations and a multinational seed company to develop technologies so smallholder African farmers could economically save seed from cowpea and sorghum hybrids. Professor Koltunow led the first five-year phase of this project, called Capturing Heterosis, while at CSIRO. This project finished in July 2019. The second phase, also funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – Hy-Gain for smallholders – commenced in March 2020, at The University of Queensland.

The Hy-Gain project is a multi-party international research project comprising seven world leading teams aiming to develop a novel technology to increase seed yield and productivity in sorghum and cowpea crops for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. This exciting 5-year project, is led by Professor Koltunow in QAAFI's Centre for Crop Science. Hy-Gain aims to ensure the technology is compatible with plant breeding to support the future, rapid delivery of new high yielding sorghum and cowpea hybrids and improved varieties. The project has some fundamental discovery work, however its key aim is building and testing the utility of the technology in plants. The research objectives span molecular work in the laboratory to field work involving genetic, genomic and transgenic technologies and testing reproductive productivity of sorghum and cowpea plants in glasshouse and in the field.

Together, the Hy-Gain project team is developing new ways to breed sorghum and cowpea varieties that make it possible to achieve large gains in yields, while increasing resilience to diseases and environmental stress.

Professor Koltunow's collaborations have had an international focus and she has consistently obtained external research funding from several sources (ARC, Australian rural development corporations, and bilateral funding involving CSIRO and India, China, Japan and Brazil and philanthropic funds). She has participated in EU consortia, trained international researchers and national and international students in plant reproduction research in partnership with national and international University collaborators. She has Professorial Affiliations with the University of Adelaide, La Trobe University and works with Huazhong Agricultural University in China.

Whilst maintaining an international profile in plant reproduction research, Professor Koltunow has also held senior leadership roles at CSIRO (including Program leader and Deputy Chief). She served on the Premier's science council in South Australia, ARC College of Experts, as President and Past President of the International Association of Plant Reproduction Research and on various scientific boards including a CRC and two New Zealand Crown Research Institutes. She has been involved in the organization of 9 international conferences, works on advisory panels, editorial boards. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

Areas of research