Building Bridges 2023 Spotlight Series: an interview with Michael Udvardi

Building Bridges 2023 Spotlight Series: an interview with Michael Udvardi

Professor Michael Udvardi is the recipient of the The Adam Kondorosi Academia Europaea Award for Advanced Research 2023. In this interview, he shares why this award is special to him and his research into sustainable agriculture.

About Michael Udvardi

Professor Michael Udvardi is a distinguished scientist known for his extensive research contributions in the field of plant biology and sustainable agriculture. With a background in plant biochemistry, he has dedicated his career to studying nutrient transport mechanisms in legumes, a vital aspect of sustainable agriculture and symbiotic nitrogen fixation. Professor Udvardi’s work encompasses a broad spectrum of topics, including associative nitrogen fixation, nitrogen transport, senescence regulation, and plant stress tolerance.

Between 2006 and 2021, he worked as Professor and then Director of Plant Biology at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and then as Chief Scientific Officer of the Noble Research Institute in the USA. Throughout his research career he has focused on understanding symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes, using biochemical, molecular, genetic and genomic approaches in model, crop and forage legumes. He has also worked on associative nitrogen fixation, nitrogen transport, regulation of senescence, and abiotic stress tolerance in plants.

His expertise in legume functional genomics aligns perfectly with the mission of the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), where he contributes to developing nutrient-efficient, climate-resilient legumes for sub-tropical agriculture.

Congratulations on receiving The Adam Kondorosi Academia Europaea Award for Advanced Research 2023! What does this recognition mean to you?

“Thank you. It is an honour and humbling to be recognised by international colleagues for my work on symbiotic nitrogen fixation. I knew Adam Kondorosi early in my career and admired his work in this area. We also share Hungarian ancestry, so this award in Adam’s memory is particularly special to me.”

What do you consider the most pressing issues in the field of plant biology and agriculture today, and how do you see your research contributing to addressing these challenges?

“Agriculture and plant science face mounting challenges from the growing world population and demand for food in the face of climate change and deterioration of the environment, e.g. soil and water resources, upon which agriculture depends. Overcoming these global systemic challenges requires ingenuity, innovation and collaboration across many scales and disciplines.

My area of expertise, symbiotic nitrogen fixation in plants, is an important piece of the puzzle, as this process reduces the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and can help reduce the environmental impact associated with their use in agriculture. These impacts include greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) and pollution of water (aquifers, rivers, and oceans) with nitrate and other nitrogen-compounds. Importantly, there is scope to increase biological nitrogen fixation in agriculture through increased use of legumes and improvement of symbiotic nitrogen fixation, which we are attempting to do via the application of genomics, genetics, and predictive plant breeding.”

How has your research successfully translated into practical applications or benefits for agriculture?

“My work helping to develop model legumes as platforms for genomics and genetics has accelerated the discovery of plant genes that are essential for symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes. Today, through the work of many research groups around the work, we have characterised more than 200 such symbiotic genes. This knowledge will contribute to plant breeding efforts to improve the process.

One thing that has become clearer from our collective research is that symbiotic nitrogen fixation is a quantitative trait affected by hundreds, if not thousands of genes. Therefore, to improve the process, we will probably need to bring together the best version, or allele, of many genes to achieve a winning combination, analogous to putting together a winning World Cup Football team. This can be done using genomic sequence information, association of variation in DNA sequence with variation in our trait of interest, i.e., symbiotic nitrogen fixation, and predictive plant breeding, a path we embarked upon a few years ago.

I believe that in the next decade this approach will bear fruit in the form of new legume varieties with greater symbiotic nitrogen fixation. And now you know what I’ll be doing for the remainder of my scientific career!”

About the Adam Kondorosi Award

The Adam Kondorosi Academia Europaea Award for Advanced Research recognises landmark research in symbiosis and related fields that has changed our understanding and made a significant scientific impact. The award consists of a diploma, medal and prize money. This prize was established in recognition of the significant achievements made in the field of plant and microbe interactions and symbiotic nitrogen fixation by the late Professor Adam Kondorosi.

Posted 10th October 2023. For further information please contact

Share this page: