Prior to joining KAUST in February 2013, Mark Tester was an ARC Federation Fellow and Professor of Plant Physiology at the University of Adelaide, where he established The Plant Accelerator and is now an Honorary Professor. Previously, he was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, where he also received his PhD in 1988. Tester is now enjoying developing saltwater-based agricultural systems to improve sustainability of food production. In 2019, he was Head of the Food Sector at NEOM.
The aim of research in Tester’s Salt Lab is to understand molecular processes that allow plants to survive in suboptimal conditions, and to use this to improve the resilience of crops to a changing environment. His attention has increasingly turned to plants that are already highly salt-tolerant, and to domesticate them – such as quinoa and Salicornia. Another focus of attention has been the stress tolerance of wild relatives of tomatoes, where outcomes can be rapidly delivered by grafting commercial scions onto vigorous, salt-tolerant rootstocks. Research outputs are now being delivered through Red Sea Farms, a company co-founded by Tester and Dr. Ryan Lefers.