Peter Goldacre was a foundation member of the Australian Society of Plant Physiologists and enthusiastic member of the Society from its inception. He completed a Science degree at the University of Sydney, majoring in chemistry and biochemistry and took up a research position at (what was then) CSIR Division of Plant Industry in Canberra in 1947. His brief was to study the biochemistry of plant hormone action, and, at that time this meant the study of auxin action, because other classes of plant growth regulators had not yet been discovered.
Peter’s early work concentrated on the biochemistry of auxin breakdown in plant tissues. In the early1950s Peter did his Ph.D, at CALTECH with James Bonner and in the company of such well-known plant physiologists as Arthur Galston, George Laties, Joe Varner and Sam Wildman. He returned to CSIRO Plant Industry and continued his work on plant growth regulators.
In 1955, after Peter’s return from CALTECH, a compound was isolated from degraded DNA by Carlos Miller and collaborators in Wisconsin. In its presence in a nutrient solution, cell division of cells of tobacco pith tissue was initiated and it was hailed as a cell division hormone and was named kinetin. However, it was quickly realised that, despite its activity, kinetin was an artifact and the quest for a naturally occurring cell division initiator (cytokinin) began. It was surmised that a likely source of would be tissue in which cells were rapidly dividing. Peter located an apple orchard on the outskirts of Canberra which was about to be bulldozed to make way for Narrabundah High School and in the late 1950s almost the whole of the Divsion of Plant Industry spent several days harvesting tiny apple friutlets as a potential source of rapidly dividing cells.
This operation, in which Ned Kefford and Rick Bottomley were prominent participants, was followed by many months of extraction an on a semi-industrial scale to concentrate a cell division factor which was known locally as ‘kinapple’. By late 1959, Peter and his colleagues had succeeded in isolating from apple fruitlets a highly concentrated fraction with strong cytokinin activity. Peter’s tragic death from stomach cancer in early 1960 at aged 34 shocked and saddened his friends and colleagues. The work on ‘kinapple’ was continued by Peter’s colleagues after his death, but the race for the first the first chemically characterised, naturally occurring cytokinin was won by by Stuart Letham with his characterisation of zeatin from immature maize kernels.
Peter Goldacre was an enthusiastic researcher who was held in great respect by his peers. Soon after his death the Association established the Goldacre Medal as a lasting tribute to his contributions to plant physiology and as an encouragement to young researchers in this discipline.
Links of interest
1955: Kinetin Arrives. The 50th Anniversary of a New Plant Hormone
The Bonner Lab
Arthur Galston, 1, 2, 3
Compiled by Don Spencer with help from John Zwar and Tony Ashton