Plant Molecular Geneticist Dr Susan Gardiner Honoured

Retired Plant & Food Research molecular geneticist Sue Gardiner has received two prestigious accolades in recognition of her outstanding contribution to global horticultural science, which enables New Zealand to be a world leader in international apple and kiwifruit breeding and genomics.

Dr Gardiner was bestowed with the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) Fellowship, as well as being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi this week.

“It’s been an exciting week, starting with the email from ISHS on International Women’s Day,” commented Gardiner, now an Honorary Fellow of Plant & Food Research.

“I wish my mother could have been here to celebrate with me, she set a high bar for me as a pioneer career woman and leader in her own profession, in the days when few women had such opportunities. Our family farm, near Waiau in North Canterbury was isolated in those days and she taught me through the Correspondence School until I was 10. Farm life enabled me to develop independence, which has been critical in my career.”

One of her most notable achievements is the development of an integrated high-throughput marker-assisted selection (MAS) platform for speedier development of new fruit varieties with targeted characteristics, currently utilised for several key crops grown in New Zealand.

Key to developing marker-assisted selection is the availability of DNA sequence of the genomes of each species, and Dr Gardiner contributed to establishing these sequences for apple, pear and kiwifruit. The MAS platform delivers information on the genetic potential of potential parents as well as enabling selection of seedlings with the combination of specific characters desired by industry and consumers.

Breeders then use this information to design crosses between optimal parents and select seedlings for observation in the field, as well as for sensory evaluation of fruit and storage tests. Her work gives an edge to New Zealand producers, who can obtain fruit tailored for market needs faster than their overseas counterparts.

Dr Gardiner was educated at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch and received her PhD in Biochemistry from Otago University. She has worked at Plant & Food Research (and its predecessors) since 1980, founded and led the award-winning Mapping & Markers Team until shortly before her retirement at the end of 2019. She has received multiple awards throughout her career, including the Science New Zealand Plant & Food Research Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, the Prime Minister’s Science Prize in 2017 as a member of the Psa Response Team, and the Outstanding International Horticulturist Award of the American Society for Horticultural Science in 2009.