Mark Tester

Principal Investigator

Professor, Plant Science; Associate Director, Center for Desert Agriculture




Research Interests

Mark Tester is Professor of Bioscience in the Division of Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, Saudi Arabia. He started there on 17 February 2013 and is Associate Director of the Center for Desert Agriculture. Professor Tester leads a large academic research group. When in Australia, he was a Director of Australian Grains Technology and served on editorial boards of 11 international journals. He referees for many more, including Nature and Science. 

He is currently seconded to NEOM, where he heads the Food Sector, developing the strategic plan for this sector and initiating its implementation. The Food Sector capex budget is in the order of USD5bn, and involves the establishment of an entire food system for NEOM, a hi-tech city of the future, with a population estimated to be 1m by 2030. 

Mark also leads a research group in which forward and reverse genetic approaches are used to understand and manipulate traits that contribute to salinity tolerance and improve this in crops such as barley and tomatoes. An immediate applied aim is to modify crop plants in order to increase productivity on such soils, with consequent improvement of yield in both developed and developing countries. The ultimate intellectual aim is to understand the control and co-ordination of whole plant function through processes occurring at the level of single cells.

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 
  • Also published in 2018 at:
  • 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, 
  • Also published in bioRxiv, doi: 
  • 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


  • PhD in Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, 1988.
  • 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 Science and Engineering Division

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 Crop science Plant physiology