National research prize for young UNE scientist

Published 11 November 2008

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Dr Kapil Chousalkar, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New England, has won a national award for his research on food safety.

Dr Chousalker travelled to Parliament House in Canberra last month where he and 13 other young scientists were presented with this year’s Australian Agricultural Industries Young Innovators and Scientists Awards by the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry, the Hon. Tony Burke MP, and the Secretary of the Department, Dr Conall O’Connell.

Dr Chousalkar, the “Australian Egg Corporation Limited Award Winner”, received a prize of $20,000 with the award. The prize money will help him to further his research, in which he has screened eggs from various parts of Australia and checked them for the presence of organisms – such as Salmonella and E. coli – that cause food poisoning.

“Eggs from healthy hens are generally sterile, but the shells can come into contact with faecal matter during laying,” he explained. “And if the shell cracks when it is collected or washed, harmful microorganisms can enter the egg.” He hopes to identify in these organisms the genes that cause food poisoning.

According to Dr. Chousalkar, Australia is more fortunate than many other countries in being able to produce eggs that are extremely safe. “However, outbreaks of food poisoning, such as Salmonella, are often blamed on eggs, even though the causes are not always confirmed,” he said. “I hope my research will help farmers adopt increasingly effective management practices and minimise the incidence of egg-related food poisoning.”

The Australian Agricultural Industries Young Innovators and Scientists Awards help young scientists to pursue innovative ideas that will result in long-term benefits for Australia’s rural industries. “Being presented with this award was an enormous honour – a highlight of my academic and research career,” Dr Chousalkar said.

In presenting the awards, Mr Burke congratulated the young scientists for their efforts in the fight against the global food shortage. Eminent scientists and agricultural industry leaders were present at the award ceremony, as well as several MPs – including the Member for New England, Tony Windsor. A proud UNE alumnus, Mr Windsor personally congratulated Dr Chousalkar on his achievement.

Dr Chousalkar, who moved from India and began his PhD studies at the University of New England in 2005, now calls Australia home. Supervised by UNE’s Associate Professor Julie Roberts, he completed his PhD research last year. He is now a Postdoctoral Fellow at UNE, working with Dr Roberts and Associate Professor Brian Cheetham. “Kapil has worked tirelessly in his research endeavours and truly deserves this recognition,” Dr Roberts said.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, showing the Hon. Tony Burke MP (right) presenting the award to Dr Kapil Chousalkar, expands to include Dr Conall O’Connell, Secretary to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.