The University of Queensland’s Professor David Craik has been elected as a Fellow of the oldest learned society in the world, the Royal Society, for his outstanding contribution to science.
Professor Craik is the second researcher from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) to be elected to the society, whose past Fellows including Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Stephen Hawking.
Professor Craik discovered and named cyclotides in the early 1990s, a family of mini-proteins in plants that are revolutionising medicine and agri-chemicals.
"The really great thing about cyclotides is that they are eco-friendly insecticides that are non-toxic to beneficial pollinators such as bees," Professor Craik said.
The Australian company Innovate Ag has developed a bee-friendly product from butterfly pea plants containing cyclotides that is approved for the protection of crops such as cotton and vegetables.
"It’s so rewarding to see that peptide-based products are having a real impact in protecting Australia's food and fibre crops," he said.
Professor Craik also wants to harness cyclotides to provide low-cost medicines by re-engineering and adapting cyclotides to create new medicines in plants.
"This is shaping up as a growth area for the future of health to treat cancer or pain and in our lifetime, treatment could be as simple as eating a sunflower seed or drinking a cup of tea brewed from designer plants," he said.
IMB Director Professor Ian Henderson said he was delighted Professor Craik’s contributions to science had been recognised.
"Professor Craik is known globally as an expert in peptide and drug discovery, and his election as a Royal Society Fellow - which ranks just below a Nobel Prize in terms of scientific prestige - confirms the world-leading nature of his research," Professor Henderson said.
"I am incredibly proud that IMB is now home to two Fellows of the Royal Society, Professor Craik and Professor Peter Visscher , a testament to the world-class researchers that we have working here, making breakthrough discoveries to improve health and wellbeing."
Professor Craik said he found out about his election while eating dinner with his wife in a restaurant overlooking the Brisbane River.
"I was stunned—this recognition is something I could never have dreamt of, growing up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and the first person in my family to go to university.
"It is immensely satisfying that eminent scientists who have inspired me have seen value in my published work, and I was humbled by the congratulations I have received from current Royal Society Fellows, including two Nobel Prize laureates."
As head of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Innovations in Peptide and Protein Science , Professor Craik intends to accelerate research to discover new proteins and peptides from Australia's diverse flora and fauna, for the benefit of humankind.
Professor Craik is one of two Australians elected this year, and joins UQ fellows Professor Visscher, Professor Ian Frazer and quantum physicist Emeritus Professor Gerard Milburn.