Dr TJ Higgins AAS AO – making an impact in West Africa

Dr TJ Higgins received the 2021 Crawford Fund medal for his “national and international leadership of agricultural biotechnology research and its application to improved food security via the development of insect resistant cowpeas” –  his full citation is here. TJ is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and he did his PhD in the University of California, Davis, before coming to ANU in 1971. Subsequently he had a long, illustrious and internationally-recognized research career with CSIRO Plant Industry, later renamed Agriculture and Food. He was early into applying plant molecular biology to crop improvement. The Bt-cowpea in Nigeria, resistant to pod borer, was his first successful GM release, and involved not only novel research but much training and drawn-out regulatory approval. As part of the effort, the Fund helped TJ bring West African regulators to Australia’s Office of Gene Technology Regulation in Canberra for training. The Bt-cowpea increases yields at least 20%, substantially reduces insecticide sprays, and is proving very popular. TJ has also worked in crop biotechnology in Bangladesh (with ACIAR) and in NE India.