Mark Tester

Associate Director

Professor of Plant Science, Associate Director of the Center for Desert Agriculture



Research Interests

The aim of research in The Salt Lab is to understand molecular processes that allow plants to survive in suboptimal conditions, and use this to improve abiotic stress tolerance of crops. Research has traditionally focused on improving salinity tolerance of existing crops, such as wheat and rice; but, more recently, attention has increasingly turned to working with plants that are already highly salt tolerant, and domesticating them. The first target for this work has been quinoa, and The Salt Lab led the publication of the quinoa genome sequence in Nature in 2017. Salicornia is also a plant that can grow in full seawater and produce an oil-rich seed that has also been worked on over the past few years. The third focus of attention has been the wild relatives of tomatoes, where outcomes can be rapidly delivered through grafting of commercial scions on to vigorous, salt-tolerant rootstocks. Research outputs are now being delivered through a company co-founded by Mark Tester and Ryan Lefers, Red Sea Farms.

Last year, Mark Tester was Head of the Food Sector at NEOM, where he led the development of a strategic plan for the Food Sector of that new hi-tech city of the future. In 2018 and 2019, Mark Tester was a Clarivate highly cited researcher (he was cited nearly 5,000 times in 2020); and in 2019 he won the Khalifa International Award for Distinguished Innovative Studies and Modern Technology. He is an Honorary Professor at the University of Adelaide and was a keynote speaker at the International Quinoa Research Symposium, August 2020.

Selected Publications

  • Al-Tamimi, N., Oakey, H., Tester, M. & Negrão, S. (2021) Assessing rice salinity tolerance: from phenomics to association mapping. In: Bandyopadhyay, A &. Thilmony, R., eds Rice Genome Engineering and Gene Editing: Methods and Protocols. Methods in Molecular Biology 2238: 339-375 Springer  
  • Grenfell-Shaw, L. & Tester, M. (2021) Abiotic stress tolerance in quinoa. In: Schmöckel, S., ed. The Quinoa Genome, Compendium of Plant Genomes, pp. 139-167. Springer-Nature.  ISBN 978-3-030-65236-4,   Published 03 March, 2021,
  • Alqahtani, M., Lightfoot, D.J., Lemtiri-Chlieh, F., Bukhari, E., Pardo, J., Julkowska, M.M. & Tester, M (2021) The role of PQL genes in response to salinity tolerance in Arabidopsis and barley. Plant Direct, 5:e00301. 
  • McCabe, M.F. & Tester, M. (2021) Digital insights: bridging the phenotype-to-genotype divide. Journal of Experimental Botany 72: 2807–2810, 
  • Sarowar Alam, M.D., Tester, M., Fiene, G. & Mousa, M. (2021) Early growth stage characterization of biochemical responses to salinity stress in tomato. Plants 10: 712. 
  • Ortega, A., Tester, M & Lauersen, K. (2021) Practical strategies to mitigate ruminant greenhouse gas emissions. ResearchSquare,, doi: 10.21203/
  • Patiranage, D.S.R., Asare, E., Maldanado, N., Rey, E., Emrani, N., Tester, M & Jung, C. (2021) Haplotype variations of major flowering time genes in quinoa unveil their role in the adaptation to different environmental conditions. Plant, Cell & Environment, 
  • Awlia, M., Alshareef, N., Saber, N., Korte, A., Oakey, H., Panzarová, K., Trtílek, M., Negrão, S., Tester, M., Julkowska, M.M. (2021) Genetic mapping of the early responses to salt stress in Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Journal, in press. Also published in bioRxiv, (2020)
  • Tyerman, S.D., Munns, R., Fricke, W., Arsova, B., Barkla, B., Bose, J., Bramley, H., Byrt, C., Chen, Z., Colmer, T., Cuin, T.A., Day, D., Foster, K., Gilliham, M., Henderson, S., Horie, T., Jenkins, C., Kaiser, B., Katsuhara, M., Plett, D., Miklavcic, S., Roy, S., Rubio, F., Shabala, S., Shelden, M., Soole, K., Taylor, N., Tester, M., Watt, M., Wege, S., Wegner, L., Wen, Z. (2019) Energy costs of salinity tolerance in crop plants. The 22nd New Phytologist Workshop ‘Energy costs of salinity tolerance in crop plants’ Adelaide, Australia, April 10-12th, 2018. New Phytologist 221: 25–29 
  • Ward, B., Brien, C., Oakey, H., Pearson, A., Negrão, S., Schilling, R., Taylor, J., Jarvis, D., Timmins, A., Roy, S.J., Tester, M., Berger, B. & van den Hengel, A. (2019) High-throughput 3D imaging to dissect the genetic control of leaf elongation in barley. Plant Journal 98: 555-570 [corresponding author]
  • Morton, M.J.L., Awlia, M., Al-Tamimi, N., Saade, S., Pailles, Y., Negrão, S. & Tester, M. (2019) Salt stress under the scalpel – dissecting the genetics of salt tolerance. Plant Journal 97: 148-163.
  • Maughan, PJ, Chaney, L., Lightfoot, D.J., Cox, B.J., Tester, M., Jellen, E.N., Jarvis, D.E. (2019) Mitochondrial and chloroplast genomes provide insights into the evolutionary origins of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.). Scientific Reports 9: 185, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-36693-6
  • Alqahtani, M, Roy, S.J. & Tester, M. (2019) Increasing salinity tolerance of crops. In: Meyers, R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology, 2nd edition, doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-2493-6_429-3
  • Zaidi, S.S., Mahfouz, M.M., Kohli, A., Vanderschuren, H., Mansoor, S. & Tester, M (2019) New plant breeding technologies for food security. Science 363: 1390-1391
  • Al-shareef, N. & Tester, M. (2019) Plant salinity tolerance. In: Hetherington, A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Life Science, 3rd edition. Wiley, doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001300.pub3. 
  • Johansen, K., Morton, M.J.L., Malbeteau, Y., Solorio, B., Al-Mashharawi, S., Ziliani, M., Angellopez, Y., Fiene, G., Negrao, S., Mousa, M., Tester, M., McCabe, M.F. (2019) Unmanned aerial vehicle-based phenotyping using morphometric and spectral analysis can quantify responses of wild tomato plants to salinity stress. Frontiers in Plant Science 10: doi: 10.3389/fpls.2019.00370
  • Julkowska, M.M., Saade, S., Agarwal, G.,Gao, G., Pailles, Y., Morton, M., Awlia, M., Tester, M. (2019) MVApp – Multivariate analysis application for streamlined data analysis and curation. Plant Physiology 180:1261-1276 doi: 10.1104/pp.19.00235 
  • Wiegmann, M., Maurer, A., Pham, A., March, T.J., Al-Abdallat, A., Thomas, W.B.T., Shahid, M., Eglinton, J., Baum, M., Flavell, A.J., Tester M. & Pillen, K. (2019) Barley yield formation under abiotic stress depends on the interplay between flowering regulator genes and environmental cues. Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-42673-1. Also published in 2018 at: 
  • Alshareef, N., Wang, J.Y., Ali, S., Al-Babili, S., Tester, M. & Schmöckel, S.M. (2019) Overexpression of the NAC transcription factor JUNGBRUNNEN1 (JUB1) increases salinity tolerance in tomato. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 140: 113–121. 
  • Lefers, R., Davies, P., Fedoroff, N., Almadhoun, N., Tester, M. & Leiknes, T. (2019) Proof of concept: puzzolan rock bricks for evaporative cooling with salt water. Applied Engineering in Agriculture 34: 929-937. 
  • Hickey, L.T., Hafeez, A., Robinson, H., Jackson, S.A., Leal-Bertioli, S.C.M., Tester, M., Gao, C., Godwin, I.D., Hayes, B.J., Wulff, B.B.H. (2019) Speeding up breeding to meet the 10 billion challenge? Nature Biotechnology 37: 744–754 (invited review) 
  • Alshareef, N.O., Khoury, H., Tester, M. & Schmockel, S.M. (2019). Genome wide identification of NAC transcription factors and their role in abiotic stress tolerance in Chenopodium quinoa. bioRxiv, doi: 
  • Pailles, Y., Awlia, M., Julkowska, M., Passone, L., Zemmouri, K., Negrao, S., Schmöckel, S.M., Tester, M. (2019) Wide variation in responses to salinity in seedlings of Galapagos tomatoes. Plant Physiology,
  • Agarwal, G., Saade, S., Shahid, M., Tester, M & Sun, Y. (2019) Quantile function modeling applied to analysis of salinity tolerance of plants. BMC Plant Biology 19 (1), 526


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

    Professional Profile

    • 2019 – 2020 Head, Food Sector, NEOM, Saudi Arabia
    • 2014 – 15 & 2019 Associate Director, Center for Desert Agriculture, KAUST
    • 2013 – present Professor of Bioscience, King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, 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, the Saudi Arabian Entrepreneurship World Cup
        • Third in the 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

      KAUST Affiliations

      CDA - Center for Desert Agriculture 

      BESE - Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering 

      Non-KAUST Affiliations

      • Advisory Editorial Board Trends in Plant Science (2018-)
      • 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-), Frontiers in Plant Physiology (2010-), 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