Prof Patricia ‘Pat’ Berjak

Born on the 29th December 1939 in Johannesburg, Professor Patricia Berjak was recognised internationally for her pioneering and fundamental studies on seed recalcitrance.

She held a PhD on the ageing of stored maize seeds from the (then) University of Natal. Her early achievements included five papers from her doctoral thesis being published in international literature, the findings of which contributed to a major chapter in the definitive book, Seed Viability, by E.H. Roberts. Professor Berjak mentored many young researchers across the spectrum of race and gender. From 1978 she supervised 37 MSc students and 16 PhD students, many of whom have gone on to establish successful scientific careers of their own, both in South Africa and abroad.

Sowing the seed…

Prof. Berjak was a world leader in the study of seeds and achieved significant success in her career. She obtained a BSc degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1962 and graduated as a biochemist before doing a Masters degree in medicine. She became a cell biologist focused on seed biology after being introduced to seeds and electron microscopy by the biologist-tutor, Trevor Villiers, in the late 1960s.

Prof Pat Berjak
Prof Pat Berjak

Prof. Berjak’s research is widely acclaimed. She was a Fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Royal Society of South Africa, and of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). She had been a long-serving member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Council since 2006 and was elected Vice-President in 2008. She was a loyal and dedicated council member, serving the academy in various capacities, most recently as the Chair of the Human Resources Committee of Council.

Awards and Recognition

In 2001, Prof. Berjak was awarded the Silver Medal of the South African Association of Botanists for research excellence. In 2004, she received the Department of Science and Technology’s Distinguished Woman Scientist Award for consistent contributions to science. This was followed by the award of the National Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) in 2006 and then the National Research Foundation’s Lifetime Achiever Award in 2008. In 2010, she was honoured by the eThekwini Municipality (Durban) with its Living Legends Award for her seed science research.

In 2005, the Darwin Initiative of the UK Government awarded her a major competitive grant in collaboration with the Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Professor Berjak established a world-class research group in the School of Biological and Conservation Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She was Professor Emeritus and Head of the Centre for Plant Germplasm Conservation Research in the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she worked for most of her distinguished 40-year academic career.

She passed away in early 2015 after a short illness.

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