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Professor Marilyn Renfree AO FAA

A pioneer of marsupial research and passionate conservationist

Professor Marilyn Renfree AO FAA - 2019 Victorian Honour Roll of Women inductee
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The kangaroo and koala are iconic images of Australia, but they and other marsupials still aren’t well understood.

Marilyn Renfree, professor at the University of Melbourne, pioneering researcher and passionate conservationist, has spent her career studying these unique Australian animals, for “we cannot conserve until we comprehend”.

Marilyn is renowned for her studies on marsupial reproduction and development. In Melbourne, her research has not only enabled us to understand how marsupials reproduce but also provided new insights into human reproduction.

Marilyn pioneered the use of marsupial models for research into reproductive and developmental biology. Her team designed contraceptives for kangaroos and koalas to prevent overpopulation in regional areas of Victoria. Parks Victoria now routinely uses this method to control koala populations in restricted habitats. Importantly, in collaboration with international colleagues, her discovery of a new hormonal pathway controlling male development is now being applied to human medicine.

Marilyn was Vice President of the Australian Academy of Science (2011–2015) and is a Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, only the second woman to receive this honour. On her appointment as Head of the Department of Zoology in 1991, she was the first female Chair of Zoology in Australia. She was a foundation member of the Society for Reproductive Biology and its first female president. A leader in her field, Marilyn has also been a champion of gender equity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and a mentor to young female scientists.

The exceptional contributions Marilyn has made to her field of research have been recognised with numerous national and international awards. She was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2013.

An important part of Marilyn’s work is sharing her enthusiasm for her beloved Australian animals, inspiring the next generation of scientists and educating the public through documentaries and media interviews.