Research Professor Robert (Bob) Gilbert.
Research Professor Robert (Bob) Gilbert.
7 August 2012

The People’s Republic of China has honoured one of Australia’s most experienced polymer chemists with a new research posting.

In a new collaboration between China and The University of Queensland, Research Professor Robert (Bob) Gilbert is among the first foreign appointees of “1000 experts” provided generous incentives to establish state-of-the-art research facilities in China.

Professor Gilbert, from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), is recognised internationally for his discoveries in fundamental polymer science; his research on starch structure and nutrition, and on diabetes.

Earlier this year, China announced its plans to import “1000 experts” in key industries such as agriculture and manufacturing over the next five years.

In June 2011, Professor Gilbert announced that his research team, working with scientists from Wuhan University in China, had identified a link between diabetes and the structure of the glucose-storage molecule (known as glycogen) in liver cells.

Over the coming decades, hundreds of millions of people in China are expected to develop diabetes.

According to Professor Gilbert, the laboratory he will establish in the central Chinese city of Wuhan (pop. 8 million) will be part of ongoing efforts to better understand how starch—which comprises 50 per cent of our food energy—is synthesised by plants and digested by humans. It will also be part of efforts to understand the synthesis and degradation of its sister molecule glycogen, synthesised by humans for controlling blood sugar.

His research is considered crucial to the development of better treatments for diabetes and for control of obesity. The Chinese funds will be used to create the best-equipped lab in the world for such studies.

Professor Gilbert said his research ties with China had been actively encouraged by UQ’s high-profile China-born scientist, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Max Lu, who is himself internationally recognised for his research into the synthesis and molecular engineering of nanomaterials.

“I congratulate Professor Gilbert on his great honour as one of the ‘1000 experts’ invited to establish a research base in China,” Professor Lu said.

“The purpose-built BioLake facility in Wuhan already hosts many of China’s top scientists.

“Professor Gilbert’s outstanding record of discovery and research training of PhD students will be greatly appreciated in China, and such a collaborative link will no doubt further strengthen the already strong research collaborations UQ has with Chinese institutions.”

To date, Professor Gilbert has successfully supervised some 65 PhD and MSc students, and 60 postdoctoral fellows.

He expects to spend about six months a year at his new laboratory in Wuhan.

Contacts: Professor Robert Gilbert, Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture & Food Innovation (QAAFI), The University of Queensland (07 3365 4809 or