Thank you Lisa Molvig

August 24th, 2023

After 30+ years at CSIRO, Senior Experimental Scientist, Agriculture and Food’s Lisa Molvig is moving on to the next chapter in her life to pursue a life-long passion. Before she left, we sat down with her and recapped her career.

What inspired you to study science and join CSIRO?
I grew up on a farm in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, where our family had market gardens and table grapes. When I worked on the farm, I could see that it was a very hard way to earn a living, so I didn’t want to become a farmer.

I had an interest in biology and chemistry in high school, but also loved art so much so that I wanted to study art at university, but I couldn’t see great career options in that field. So, I chose to study science instead, majoring in biology and chemistry at the University of Newcastle.

In my honours year, I did a project in plant tissue culture and became fascinated with the possibilities of a career in this field. It was only a few years since the first genetically modified (GM) plant had been created, so I looked for job opportunities in this field. One came up at CSIRO and I was successful in getting the job, and the rest as they say is history.

To my surprise, as I made my way through my career, I came to find out that working in plant tissue culture, can actually be harder than farming!

What has been the focus of your science work over the past 30+ years?
I have been privileged to work in the same research group, now Agriculture and Food, for my entire career. My research has primarily been on grain legume transformation and various projects focused on improving protein quality, insect resistance and photosynthetic efficiency.

My part in these projects has mainly been to create the transgenic plants lupins, chickpeas and cowpeas along with the molecular characterisation of these plants for the first couple of generations.

How do you think that science has made an impact?
As we have been part of the first wave of GM plant research, the projects I have been involved with have all broken new ground. Having to work from basic scientific principles to develop our protocols. This has also involved training PhD students and visiting scientists from across the world and lead to long term international collaborations.

The one which I have been part of for the past 19 years, has been the most significant, as we have delivered GM cowpeas with insect resistance to some of the poorest farmers in west Africa (Nigeria and Ghana).

How have you enjoyed working as part of a team on this research?
Scientific research involves many people, with many different skills. We rely on each other to bring our own expertise to the project and collaborate to problem solve and progress the research.

While I have mainly worked in a laminar flow cabinet for most of my career to create the transgenic plants, it is a team effort to take those plants through much analysis and out to the field. Through this, I have learned many more skills in molecular biology and plant breeding.

What will life look like for you, outside CSIRO?
I have many interests outside of work, from French cars, bicycles and Scandinavian folk dancing to visual arts. When I turned 40, I decided to go back to my first career choice and study visual arts. I did this part time by correspondence over six years while still working full time in the lab. It was quite a challenging time, but also very rewarding.

I’m glad that I did this study as a mature age student, as I could bring so many more life skills to the study. My arts practice is mainly in tapestry weaving and relief printmaking. Since then, I have started to establish myself in the arts world, taking part in various group exhibitions, selling my work at markets and in gallery shops.

Recently I have even had an opportunity to apply my art skills to a scientific project in CSIRO. Earlier this month, I coordinated an exhibition of work by a group of printmaking friends at the Discovery Centre gallery, if you are in the area, check it out.

In my retirement I will continue to pursue my art career and perhaps work toward a solo exhibition, so stay tuned!