Louisa Parkinson.
Louisa Parkinson.
5 August 2015

She chose plant science because she wanted to “feed the world”, and now University of Queensland student Louisa Parkinson is the face of the University’s new advertising campaign.

Louisa, who is undertaking a PhD with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), a partnership between UQ and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), is the face of UQ’s new brand and student recruitment campaign.

With its tagline of 'create change', the advertising now features across a range of media including television, outdoor and digital. 

“I follow UQ on Facebook and saw a post about auditioning for the television commercial, so I sent in a photo,” Ms Parkinson said.

A successful audition followed and then Louisa joined other chosen students for filming. 

“They filmed part of my featured scene with remote-controlled flying camera drones. Having a floating camera hover in the air in front of me as I stood in front of the Forgan Smith building was an unforgettable experience. The film crew were 100 metres away and the director was shouting “action,” “cut” and directional cues through a speaker, just like in the movies. They also filmed me up close and with special lighting equipment and the whole film crew standing in front me, watching. It was very exciting, and nerve-wracking.”

Ms Parkinson said the “create change” branding was appropriate to her story, as her desire to make a difference was what prompted her decision to become a plant scientist and to study avocados.

“By 2050 the world’s population is expected to double, which means we’ll need to produce up to twice the amount of food than we already are,” Ms Parkinson said.

“Plant diseases are a significant threat to food security, reducing yield and negatively impacting global food production. I want to improve food security through plant pathogen research and contribute to helping feed the world,” Ms Parkinson said.

Ms Parkinson’s passion for science and working in food security have seen her win her institute’s 3 Minute Thesis (‘3MT’) competition heat, where she showcased her avocado research topic in just three minutes. She then won silver in UQ’s final across all institutes.

Her research focus is black root rot disease of nursery avocado trees, caused by soil-borne fungal pathogens, and its effect on avocado tree mortality during early field establishment.

“Black root rot is devastating, causing tree stunting, wilt, black rotten roots and finally death; all within a year after planting,” Ms Parkinson said.

“The disease can wipe out up to 100% of new plantings, but we don’t know much about it.”

“My research will provide a better understanding of the causal agents of black root rot in avocado. From fungal DNA sequence data, I am also developing a molecular diagnostic so that we can help avocado growers rapidly test for the presence of these pathogens in their avocados.”

Consumption of avocado in Australia has doubled in the last 10 years, thanks to some clever industry marketing, and the demonstrated health properties. The ancient fruit that once fed dinosaurs is often labelled a “super food” due to its rich source of potassium, omega-3 fatty acids, and lutein.

Avocados also contain good amounts of soluble and insoluble fibre. In Mexico and Chile, the trade in Hass avocados is so lucrative, the fruit is called oroverde, or green gold.

Australia has about 850 avocado producers and together they cultivate 6000 hectares of avocados. In recent years, production in Australia has increased substantially from new orchards coming on-stream and the crop for the 12 months to December 2014 came in at about 53,000 tonnes, worth around A$280million at the farm gate.

Queensland, with its tropical and subtropical climate similar to the Central American origin of avocado, accounts for the majority of total production, but Western Australia, central New South Wales and the “Tri-State” area along the Murray River, are also significant growing regions. Many different varieties are grown, but most of the industry is made up of Hass and Shepard. It is estimated that about 60 per cent of avocados produced are sold through supermarkets. Only around 5000 tonnes of fruit is exported overseas.

Ms Parkinson has been invited to present her research at the 8th World Avocado Congress in Lima, Peru in September this year. 

“The conference will be a fantastic opportunity to learn about all the avocado research going on around the world, and to interact with other researchers and growers,” Ms Parkinson said.

“I really feel avocado research gives me the best of both worlds – the lifestyle of being involved with agricultural production in Queensland as well as the science. I love talking to growers and being in the field as much as I love being in the laboratory.”

Ms Parkinson, who is of Filipino heritage, grew up enjoying avocados as a dessert fruit.

“My favourite avocado recipe is a sweet Filipino dessert made of mashed avocado, mixed with sugar or honey and a splash of evaporated milk. This may not sound appetising as avocados are famously made in savoury recipes. But it is actually very delicious! Mum used to make this dessert for me as a child and I still love to eat it.”    

Ms Parkinson is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award and her experimental activities are funded through a project led by her supervisor Dr Elizabeth Dann from Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited, using the avocado levy and funds from the Australian Government.

Contact: Margaret Puls, QAAFI Communications, 07 3346 0553, m.puls@uq.edu.au or communications@uq.edu.au