Mark Tester


Professor, Plant Science Associate Director, Center for Desert Agriculture



Research Interests

The immediate aim of Professor Tester's research program is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that enable certain plants to thrive in sub-optimal soil conditions, such as those of high salinity, low water or low nutrients. The ultimate applied aim of the program is to modify crop plants in order to increase productivity on such soils, with consequent improvement of yield in both developed and developing countries.   Furthermore, the intellectual aim is to understand the co-ordination of whole plant function through processes occurring at the level of single cells, particularly through processes of long-distance communication within plants. This aim is being addressed by combining genetic and genomic approaches with a broad-based understanding of plant physiology.   A particular strength of Professor Tester's research program is the integration of cell biology with whole plant physiology. The development and use of tools for the study and manipulation of specific cell types is unique in the field of salinity tolerance, and even in the broader areas of plant nutrition and ion transport.

Selected Publications

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

    Professional Profile

    • 2019 – 2020 Head, Food Sector, NEOM, Saudi Arabia
    • 2014 – 15 & 2019- Associate Director, Center for Desert Agriculture, KAUST
    • 2013 – Professor of Bioscience, King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, Saudi Arabia
    • 2009 – 2013 Professor of Plant Physiology, Univ 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 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 won the Saudi Arabian Entrepreneurship World Cup
      • Red Sea Farms came third in the Entrepreneurship World Cup (global finals, out of >100,000 applicants)
      • 2018-19 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

      For 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)