Mark A. Tester

Associate Director

Associate Director of the Center for Desert Agriculture | Professor of Plant Science | Principal Investigator of the Salt Lab




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.

Research Interests

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.

Selected Publications


  • PhD Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, 1988
  • BSc (Hons), Plant Sciences 1st Class, University of Adelaide, 1984

    Professional Profile

    • 2019-2020: Head, Food Sector, NEOM, Saudi Arabia
    • 2014-15 & 2019-present: Associate Director, Center for Desert Agriculture, KAUST, Saudi Arabia
    • 2013-present: Professor of Bioscience, KAUST, Saudi Arabia
    • 2009-2013: Professor of Plant Physiology, University of Adelaide and Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics
    • 2004-2008: Research Professor, Australian Research Council Federation Fellow
    • 2001-2003: BBSRC Research Development Fellow
    • 2000-2003: Senior Lecturer, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
    • 1994-2003: Fellow, Churchill College Cambridge
    • 1993-2000: Lecturer, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
    • 1990-1992: Lecturer, Department of Botany, University of Adelaide
    • 1988-1990: Junior Research Fellow, Churchill College Cambridge

      Scientific and Professional Membership

      • American Association for the Advancement of Science
      • American Society of Plant Biologists
      • Society of Experimental Biology
      • Australian Society of Plant Scientists


      • 2019 Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation, category Distinguished Innovative Studies and Modern Technology
      • Red Sea Farms
        • Winner, Saudi Arabian Entrepreneurship World Cup
        • Third place, Entrepreneurship World Cup (global finals, out of >100,000 applicants)
        • Winner, Gulfood Startup Program
        • Winner, FoodTech Awards
      • 2018, 2019, 2020 ISI highly cited researcher
      • 2017 Honorary Professor, University of Adelaide
      • 2014-19 Honorary Professor, University of Dundee
      • 2013 Dermot P Coyne Distinguished Lecturer, University of Nebraska
      • 2010 American Society of Plant Biologists recognition for “publishing the most influential science” (one of 12 Australians and 45 internationally)
      • University of Adelaide Faculty of Science Award for Distinguished Contribution to Research over a sustained period
      • The Plant Accelerator
        • Australian Institute of Architects SA Chapter Keith Neighbour Prize for Best Commercial Building
        • Australian Institute of Architects SA Chapter Commendation for Environmentally Sustainable Building
        • Master Builders Association Commendation for excellence in commercial / industrial building $10-20 million
        • Australian Steel Institute SA Awards: Steel Clad Structures – Steel Design Award
        • 2004 ARC Federation Fellowship
        • 2001 BBSRC Research Development Fellowship
        • Fellow, Royal Society of Biology
        • 1997 President’s Medal of the Society for Experimental Biology
        • 1988 Glaxo Junior Research Fellowship, Churchill College, Cambridge

      Non-KAUST Affiliations

      • Advisory Editorial Board Trends in Plant Science (2018-present)
      • Associate editor Plant, Cell & Environment (2000-2012), Plant Signalling and Behaviour (2005-2011), Journal of Experimental Botany (2009-2012)
      • Editorial Board Frontiers in Plant Biotechnology (2011-present), Frontiers in Plant Physiology (2010-present), Molecular Plant (2007-2012), Rice (2007-2012), The Open Plant Science Journal (2008-2012), Journal of Integrative Plant Biology (2008-10), Functional Plant Biology (2006-2012)
      • Board of Advisors New Phytologist (2009-2012)

      Research Interests Keywords

      salinity tolerance ion transport sustainable food production systems