Toad-fighting scientist shines at Premier’s Prizes

Published: 14 Oct 2016

A world-renowned ecologist who has led the war against the toxic cane toad has been named the 2016 New South Wales Scientist of the Year.

Professor Richard Shine AM was presented the $60,000 award at the NSW Premier's Prizes for Science & Engineering this evening.

Cane toads have devastated ecosystems across Australia’s north for more than 75 years, however, Professor Shine and his research team at The University of Sydney discovered a novel way to control the alien amphibians.

The team found cane toad tadpoles eat the freshly laid eggs of their own species as part of their fight for survival.

A pheromone found in the eggs attract the cane toad tadpoles, and the researchers were able to use the same chemical to lure tadpoles by the tens of thousands into specially designed traps.

Premier Mike Baird said innovative solution had helped solved one of the most significant environmental challenges since the 1930s.

“Cane toads are not just confined to the tropics; they’ve penetrated delicate ecosystems as far south as Sydney – and they continue to pose a real threat to our native wildlife, including reptiles and marsupials,” he said.

NSW Minister for Industry, Resources & Energy, Anthony Roberts, said the Prizes highlight the incredible strength of NSW’s R&D sector and its importance to a healthy economy.

“A strong and dynamic research and development capability is a key driver for innovation in our economy, which continues to go from strength to strength,” Minister Roberts said.

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, also paid tribute to the winners – including the 2016 Scientist of the Year.

“The excellent work undertaken by Rick Shine and his team is yet another example of the high-quality research in NSW universities addressing real problems,” Professor O’Kane said.

The NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering recognise research excellence and reward the State’s best and brightest for cutting-edge work including that that generates economic, environmental, health, social or technological benefits for New South Wales.

The winners of the nine category awards each received a trophy and $5000:

1. Excellence in Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Physics
Winner: Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn, The University of Sydney

2. Excellence in Biological Sciences (Ecology, environmental, agricultural, organismal)
Winner: Professor Mike Archer AM, University of New South Wales

3. Excellence in Medical Biological Sciences (Cell and molecular, medical, veterinary and genetics)
Winner: Professor David James, The University of Sydney

4. Excellence in Engineering and Information and Communications Technologies
Winner: Professor Toby Walsh, University of New South Wales

5. Energy Innovation in NSW:
Winner: Laureate Professor Kevin Galvin, University of Newcastle

6. NSW Early Career Researcher of the Year
Joint Winner: Dr Elizabeth New, The University of Sydney
Joint Winner: Dr Muireann Irish, University of New South Wales

7. Leadership in Innovation in NSW:
Winner: Professor Helen Christensen, Black Dog Institute

8. Innovation in Public Sector Science & Engineering:
Winner: Dr Lukas Van Zwieten, NSW Department of Primary Industries

9. Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education in NSW:
Winner: Mrs Nikki Zimmerman, Kambala School

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