Professor Richard Gardner has been awarded the title of University of Auckland emeritus professor, alongside already being a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Emeritus Professor Richard Gardner held a personal chair in molecular genetics at the University of Auckland concluding his tenure from 1985 to 2013. He has been one of the leading plant molecular biologists in New Zealand. He is known for his early work on cauliflower mosaic virus and the development of Agrobacterium vectors for plants. Since returning to New Zealand in 1985, he has worked on the genetics and molecular biology of several of New Zealand's main agricultural crops, including apples, radiata pine and ryegrass.
He is best known for his work with kiwifruit, for which his laboratory developed methods for gene transfer, and isolated and characterized a number of key genes involved in fruit development and ripening. He has also worked extensively on the molecular biology of the response of plants to aluminium stress – aluminium is the most abundant metal in soils, and is toxic for root growth in acidic soils. This work led to the identification of the first magnesium transport genes in yeast and subsequently in plants. He has also been involved in tracing the phylogenetic history of native New Zealand plants, most notably pohutukawa. His latter work initiated a research programme on the genetics of wine yeasts, as part of a national research programme looking at the aromas of New Zealand's sauvignon blanc wines.