Plant biologist Dr Monika Murcha from The University of Western Australia was today recognised as Western Australia’s brightest emerging scientist at this year’s Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.
Dr Murcha, a Future Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, was presented with the award at a state ceremony to recognise Western Australia’s best young scientists from disciplines spanning nanotechnology, exercise science, agricultural microbiology and astrophysics.
Her research is driven by the need to increase global food production for a rising population. Dr Murcha is focused on developing super-efficient plants that can thrive with limited fertiliser and survive changing environments.
“By starting at the source of energy within a cell, the mitochondria, we can control the plant’s energy source,” she said.
Dr Murcha has identified specific gatekeepers that can regulate the rate at which the mitochondria take in protein and regulate energy production.
“I’m now trying to find the master regulators of these gatekeepers; factors that regulate mitochondrial activity and energy production,” she said.
“By identifying these specific regulators in mitochondria, we hope to modify mitochondrial energy production which will change plant growth and development, leading to bigger biomass, higher seed yields and increasing germination rates.”
The Tall Poppy awards are run by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science and recognise up-and-coming scientists who combine world-class research with a passionate commitment to communicating science. Many Young Tall Poppies go on to achieve even greater things and become inspiring leaders in their field.
Displaying a keen enthusiasm for science outreach, Dr Murcha has given practical demonstrations to school students during National Science Week, including using the virtual plant cell 360 virtual reality experience.
She has also been helped promote women in STEM and particularly encouraging women to continue their careers following maternity leave through networks such as Athena SWAN and Women in Science.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robyn Owens said Dr Murcha was an outstanding example of a talented young researcher making a significant contribution to global research as well as science outreach in Western Australia.
“Dr Murcha’s work with the community, and particularly in encouraging more women to continue in STEM careers after becoming mothers makes her a fine role model for young researchers at UWA,” Professor Owens said.
Dr Monika Murcha (ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology) (+61 8) 6488 1749
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716