Adding value to research and commercialisation

Alison StewartScion’s new General Manager for Forest Science, Emeritus Professor Alison Stewart (photo right), is amazed at the breadth of research being undertaken at Scion.

Alison took up the position in February, having spent the past three years as Senior Vice President R&D and Chief Technical Officer at Marrone Bio Innovations in California.

“The extent of the research being done in manufacturing and bioproducts, in addition to forest science, makes my role even more challenging and exciting,” says Alison. “The more I learn about the forest industry, the more I appreciate just how complex it is. There are layers and layers of stakeholders to consider - forest growers, wood processors and value-added manufacturers - each involved in different aspects of the industry. Many industry investors are from overseas too, which adds yet another level of complexity.

“I am slowly understanding now why forestry is quite a conservative industry. There are many moving parts and risk factors to consider, and predicting and forecasting are influenced by so many factors compared to short rotation crops, like vegetables.”

Alison is from a background where innovation is easier to be adopted and for the benefits to be seen within a short timeframe. With forestry, she says, it could take up to 25 years to see the difference.

Alison has successfully developed and commercialised a number of bioprotection technologies for the agriculture, horticulture and nursery sectors in both New Zealand and the USA. She is currently on the advisory board of Better Border Biosecurity (B3), a government funded research consortium focused on the development and delivery of biosecurity systems, and is science advisor to the PGG Wrightson-led Primary Growth Project on biological seed additives.

Prior to working at Marrone Bio Innovations, Alison was founding director of the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University where she also held various other roles including Professor of Plant Pathology. She was Deputy Chair of Plant and Food Research (2011-13), a Director of the Waite Research Institute in Adelaide and, until recently, an advisory member of the California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research at the
University of California (Davis).

“I came back to New Zealand because I wanted to apply my learnings from a commercial bio-tech company to add value to the research and commercialisation space in New Zealand. I see plenty of opportunities at Scion to do that.”

Alison believes in applying a global perspective to science and technology, and loves the challenge of “joining the dots” when it comes to creating new networks and partnerships in order to achieve the bigger picture.

“The science environment in New Zealand is challenging because we’re so small and isolated. We therefore need to connect internationally to access new funding, or partner with overseas companies to deliver new technologies. This also adds a much broader perspective to our work.

“The next big step for me is to work closely with Dr Elspeth MacRae, Scion’s General Manager of Manufacturing and Bioproducts, to further align the work both our groups are doing to achieve more innovation at the interface between the different science disiplines and industry needs. That’s where we’ll see the greatest creativity happening.”