Professor Neena Mitter

Centre Director

Centre for Horticultural Science
Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation

Affiliate Professor

Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
n.mitter@uq.edu.au
+61 7 334 66513

Overview

Prof Neena Mitter is the founding Director of both the QAAFI Centre for Horticultural Science and the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformational Research HUB for Sustainable Crop Protection at The University of Queensland (UQ). The Centre of Horticultural Science, which constitutes over 70 core staff and students and champions over $37 Million worth of research projects, is collectively committed to developing the horticulture of tomorrow. As Director Neena purposely oversees that the three major research themes of the Centre; ‘horticulture crop breeding and agronomy’, ‘plant protection’ and ‘emerging technologies’, are carefully networked across multiple regional Centre locations and that they operate in close collaboration with industry, growers and government, to boost innovation, productivity and economic growth.

Neena’s career and passion for delivering real world outcomes has received recognitions such as Fellowship to Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, Young Scientist Award from the Prime Minister of India, Queensland International Fellowship, Gates Grand Challenges Explorations Award and Women in Technology Outstanding Life Sciences Award. Neena is continually driven by the realisation of agriculture’s significance in shaping the world, economically, socially, environmentally and politically. Her high impact science and exceptional industry engagement has led to commercially focused innovations namely 'BioClay for crop protection', 'Nanovaccines for animal health', and ‘Clonal propagation of avocado using plant stem cells’. Her incomparable collaboration and industry commitment has awarded her directorship of ARC Industrial Transformational Research HUB for Sustainable Crop Protection so she can continue to bridge the gap between fundamental and applied science and place Australia squarely on the world stage as a provider of a non-toxic, non-GM, ecologically sustainable Ag-Nano innovation. Her world’s first avocado tissue culture technology has the disruptive power to meet the growing global demand for new plants, will smash 2022 backlog of supply and demand. Neena has served as an invited member on the Federal Government’s Decadal Plan for Agriculture and was invited to the OECD summit to develop policy and risk assessment guidelines on RNA based pesticides. She is an active Deputy member of the National Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity (https://www.leadershipdiversity.org.au/) liaises within its business, government, universities and civil society membership. Neena is highly and consistently sort after to present at internationally hosted Forums such as Nature conferences and the World Science Festival.

Research Impacts

Globally, pest and diseases reduce crop yields by 20 to 40% constraining global food security. The need for new sustainable disease control agents grows each year, driven by the need for greater production, climate change, pesticide resistance and toxicity to human health and environment. RNA interference (RNAi) or gene silencing is a powerful approach for combating biotic and abiotic stresses, but at present is limited in its adoption as genetically modified (GM) crops. A/Prof. Mitter and A/Prof. Xu (AIBN) secured Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Award (2012) (selected out of 2700 applicants, the only one from Australia in the field of Agriculture) leading to the development of ‘BioClay’ crop protection platform. It is a simple and elegant amalgamation of biology and nanotechnology to deliver RNAi as a non-toxic, non-GM, easy to adopt, environmentally sustainable spray for protecting crops from pests and diseases. BioClay innovation takes nanotechnology for delivery of RNAi for human therapeutics into the world’s first use in crop protection. BioClay technology is being further developed under A/Prof Mitter’s leadership of a global multidisciplinary consortium funded by Queensland Govt. Accelerate Partnerships (~$1.6m). It comprises academics from UQ (QAAFI, AIBN, SCMB, SBS and SAFS), international partners from USA and Africa and a strong industry partner. The ‘flow-on’ impact of BioClay will reduce pesticide usage, reduce toxic run off to our precious waterways enhance the clean green image of produce and lead to economic prosperity and jobs for future.

Prof. Mitter is also leading the development of silica vesicle based vaccine delivery platform in collaboration with Prof Yu at AIBN. This novel platform targeting animal health circumvents the challenges of multiple doses, cold chain requirements and adjuvant toxicity concerns posed by current vaccines. A global consortium funded by Queensland Govt, School of Global Animal Health, Washington State University and pharmaceutical company Zoetis (~$ 3.6M) has generated proof of concept with significant diseases of interest to the cattle industry including Bovine Viral Diarrhoea Virus and Cattle Tick Fever. The excellent research has resulted in 2 patents, one commercial lock-out agreement, 3 PhDs and 11 publications in high impact journals: The vision moving forward is to target key animal health issues of $12.6b beef, $3.9b sheep, $3.4b pork and $1.1b aquaculture industries in Australia. Nanovaccines for animal health will result in multiple benefits including estimated revenue generation of $2-5m / disease target.

Prof. Mitter’s research on various aspects of avocado improvement is poised for a significant impact on avocado productivity. Retail value of $767 million with Queensland contributing to 50% of this production, increasing local demand (3kg/year) and opening up of Asian markets for consumption as the sought after health food calls out for innovation to sustain productivity of the rapidly expanding avocado industry. Avocado is a grafted tree and good quality disease resistant rootstocks are integral to increased productivity. Clonal propagation of avocado rootstocks in Australia currently follows a 40 year-old practice that takes ~18 months to generate field-ready trees, at high cost. The pioneering research in Mitter lab supported by ARC linkage (~$ 600k) has led to the world’s first use of PLANT STEM CELLS, or meristems, for clonal propagation of avocado. It has the potential to be a “game changer” for avocado growers by halving the time and cost to supply disease free clonal rootstocks. Mitter lab is also exploring nanoparticles to deliver RNA to promote rooting in avocado. As an epicentre of subtropical agriculture, Queensland is in a unique position to benefit from this UQ led research including capturing a bigger share of the global markets, particularly Asia.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Indian Agricultural Research Institute

Publications

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Grants

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Supervision

  • (2021) Doctor Philosophy

  • (2021) Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

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Publications

Book Chapter

  • Shaw, Lindsay, Nath, Onkar, Fletcher, Stephen, Henry, Robert, Mitter, Neena and Hayward, Alice (2020). Avocado transcriptomic resources. Reference Module in Food Science. (pp. 544-557) Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier BV. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-08-100596-5.22733-9

  • Hiti-Bandaralage, Jayeni, Hayward, Alice, O’Brien, Chris, Gleeson, Madeleine, Nak, William and Mitter, Neena (2019). Advances in avocado propagation for the sustainable supply of planting materials. Achieving sustainable cultivation of tropical fruits. (pp. 215-238) Cambridge, United Kingdom: Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing. doi: 10.19103/as.2019.0054.19

  • O’Brien, Christopher, Hiti-Bandaralage, Jayeni C. A., Hayward, Alice and Mitter, Neena (2018). Avocado (Persea americana Mill.). Step Wise Protocols for Somatic Embryogenesis of Important Woody Plants. (pp. 305-328) edited by Shri Mohan Jain and Pramod Gupta. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-79087-9_24

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

Completed Supervision