La Trobe research

THRILL OF DISCOVERY

Biochemist and passionate supporter of women in science Professor Marilyn Anderson challenges the norm.

BY CHERESE SONKKILA

The excitement of finding something new is what Marilyn relishes. “It’s an incredible feeling when you’re the first person to solve a problem,” she says.

Marilyn is a professor of biochemistry at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) and the chief science officer of Hexima, a biotechnology company embedded at LIMS. Marilyn co-founded Hexima in 1998 following her discovery of naturally occurring insecticidal and antifungal molecules in the reproductive parts of plants.

The Hexima team is exploiting these molecules to develop genetically modified crops that are protected from insect predation and fungal infections. “It’s a huge market,” says Marilyn. “We will not be able to feed and clothe humanity if we don’t have insect and fungal-resistant plants.”

Marilyn did a Bachelor of Science (Hons) at the University of Melbourne and then completed her PhD in biochemistry at La Trobe University. Her enthusiasm for this field is clear: “I’m still knocked over by just how amazing biology is, and how things have evolved to work.”

Supporting women in science

Now a leader in the scientific community, Marilyn is not only a director at Hexima, she is also on the La Trobe University Council and was inducted into the 2014 Victorian Honour Roll for Women, and in 2016 named an Officer of the Order of Australia, for her scientific achievements.

She is passionate about gender equality and supporting women in science. “There’s a lot of work to be done just to give women equal opportunity,” she says. “There are many talented female scientists here at Hexima, and I enjoy mentoring women and helping them through the early stages of their career.”

“There’s a lot of work to be done just to give women equal opportunity.”