Adrienne Clarke, Botanist

About Adrienne Clarke:

When I was 16 years old, I sat for the “matric” exams. I wanted to be a biologist and I knew I needed to learn chemistry. My small girls school had no chemistry teacher, so it was DIY chemistry from my brother’s school notes. I struggled, but I learned how to learn and have been learning ever since. I studied chemistry and biochemistry at University and I loved it.

Eventually I became a Professor at The University of Melbourne and with colleagues discovered the gene that controls self-incompatibility in plants (basically how the female plant recognises and either accepts or rejects male pollen). We also discovered genes that plants use to protect themselves against infections from fungi. The fungus that causes some plant diseases is very similar to the one that infects toenails. This discovery is now being developed to cure fungal infections of toenails by the company Hexima Limited.

From these and other discoveries I was elected to the Academies of Science in Australia and in the USA.

My experiences in science and business led to opportunities to contribute to the development of science in Australia though my roles as Chairman of the CSIRO, and Victorian Ambassador for Biotechnology, Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, founding Chairman of VESKI Ltd, Chancellor of LaTrobe University and many Government committees and boards.

I have worked with wonderful young women scientists and pioneered pathways for them to remain in science after they had started families. On a broader scale, I contributed as a board member of SAGE (Science and Gender Equity), and on a smaller scale by speaking at girls’ schools.

As well as contributing to discoveries in science, and science and education policies, I have served on Boards of major companies such as Woolworths Limited, Alcoa of Australia, WMC Ltd, Fisher Paykel HealthCare.