Prof Zora Singh named 2017 Innovator of the Year in Western Australia | SV

  • Edited by SBS
  • Dec 19, 2017

Prof Zora Singh has been working at Curtin University, Perth for many years now, where he is the Foundation Professor Postharvest Horticulture in the Department of Agriculture and Environment. He is an alumnus of Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana.

A recipient of numerous national and international awards previously, Prof Zora Singh has dedicated his academic life to agri-research.

Acceptance speech being delivered by Prof Zora Singh

Explaining the research that has won him this prestigious award in Western Australia, Prof Zora Singh said, “Up to 44% of fresh horticultural produce is estimated to be spoiled before it reaches the consumers, because of the naturally occurring ethylene in fruits and vegetables. It is believed that this costs Australia in excess of $2.4 billion a year.”

“In nature, the hormone ethylene triggers physiological processes in plants which makes the fruit ripen quickly. The ability to control the production and action of ethylene allows for extension of the storage life of horticultural produce such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers.”

“We set out to find a blocker for this ethylene, to prevent spoilage of this fresh produce, so that more of it can reach the consumer after it’s harvested, ” Prof Singh told SBS Punjabi.

“I worked in conjunction with Dr Alan Payne in Curtin University’s Chemistry department, who would create the ethylene blockers for me to test.”

Prof Singh and Dr Payne have discovered a new class of ethylene antagonist which delays ripening and reduces flower drop, dramatically reducing post-harvest losses of horticultural produce.

These compounds are used in formulations that extend storage, transport and shelf life of fruits, vegetables and cut flowers.

‘Our trials have worked really well, and the university has now filed for two patents, so that these ethylene blockers can be marketed commercially. I expect that this should be available for farmers within a few years,” said Prof Singh.

Talking about other projects, Prof Singh said he has previously worked to extend the shelf life of mangoes, that greatly reduces to cost of export. “Earlier, exporters would have to pay airfares to export mangoes so that they reached international destinations intact; with our innovation, the shelf life of mangoes has increased dramatically, and they can shipped via sea, instead of going by air freight, thereby greatly reducing costs for Australian exporters.”

(from right to left : Mr Dave Kelly, Minister for Innovation, Western Australia, Prof Zora Singh, Ms Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Agriculture and Food; Regional Development, Dr Alan Payne, Mitsubishi Corporation, CEO)
R-L: Dave Kelly, Minister for Innovation, WA, Prof Zora Singh, Ms Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Agriculture & Food; Dr Alan Payne, CEO Mitsubishi Corp

Prof Singh also compared farming practises between Australia and India, highlighting the differences between them, but said there is much scope for joint collaboration projects between the two countries.

‘It would be great if Indian farmers start growing olives,” Prof Singh added, giving various reasons for it.

As for the cash prize of $75,000 that comes with the Innovation of the Year 2017 award, Prof Singh said, “It will be invested back into more research projects.”

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