Q&A with Surinder Singh the recipient of the 2020 Australasian Section Award for Scientific Excellence in Lipid Research
A brief biography: Surinder Singh, Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Canberra, Australia, has pioneered the successful genetic modification of fatty acid composition in oil crops to provide improved nutritional value for human health and improved functionality for novel industrial end uses. He has also developed new varieties of oilseed crops (canola and safflower) as well as increasing the oil content in leaves of conventional crops (eg. sorghum) and has provided the science underpinning the commercial development of these new crops.
In his work, Dr. Singh combines a unique blend of gene discovery, which enables him to transform scientific concepts into agricultural products for commercial applications. The canola producing large amounts of the long-chain omega-3 oils that are essential for human health, and the modified safflower oil for industrial applications have been deregulated in Australia and licensed to commercial companies. Surinder Singh has more than 100 granted patents. He is elected as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences and fellow Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering in 2019.
1) How did it feel to win the Australasian Section Award for Scientific Excellence in Lipid Research?
I am extremely proud to have been awarded the 2020 Australasian Section Award for Scientific Excellence in Lipid Research. I consider this a great recognition of the work done by my team over the last 25 years in the Plant Oil Engineering Group at CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Canberra.
2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?
I have always been interested in how plants work. My Ph.D. focused on plant membrane responses to low temperatures and hormones. This is how I got interested in plant lipids and the important role storage lipids, like triglycerides (plant oil), have in providing reduced carbon both for nutrition as well as industrial end uses.
3) Can you tell us more about your current research?
Over the last 25 years, my research focus has been on translational research in the field of plant lipid biotechnology and am a holder of more than 100 patents. I was cited by Nature Biotechnology as one of the world's top ten translational researchers for 2014. In 2019, I was elected as a Fellow of The Australian Academy of Sciences as well as a Fellow of The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. For the last two decades, I have been at the forefront of developing new genetically engineered oilseed crops. Two new crops, Omega-3 Canola and Super-high Oleic Safflower, are ready to enter global commercial production through licensees in 2020/2021. Currently, my lab is harnessing the power of synthetic biology to create new platforms for lipid production.
4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?
The biggest challenge I have had to face in my career as a research scientist is the uncertainty of funding. Research dollars are scarce which sets up fierce competition these dollars. This leads to funding being cut off at most inopportune moments.
5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?
The key to success in having a productive and sustained research career in science is to plan ahead and always try and catch the next wave of excitement and hence funding in your particular field of research. Risk-taking is also a very important part of breakthrough research. Above all, it is important to be passionate about science and what you are trying to achieve.
6) How has AOCS helped you in your career?
AOCS has been a very important element in my career. My research has been focused on developing new products for the fats and oils industry. AOCS membership provides me very valuable insights into the needs and new developments in the fats and oils industry. I have also found attending the AOCS meetings and journals extremely useful in networking and interacting with industry players.