Our goal is to provide 21st century solutions to global agricultural, food production, manufacturing, healthcare and environmental challenges. For thousands of years we have used microbes to create bread, wine and cheese. Now synthetic biology goes one step further, engineering ways to convert biomass from agriculture or waste streams to biofuels, bio plastics and other high-value chemicals.
Our centre brings together 9 Australian universities and a range of partners, such as biotech start-ups, government departments, international university and research facilities, medium to large business and industry bodies. Together we aim to create an environmentally sustainable processing industry, leading to significant rural investment, jobs and new export opportunities.
“In my mind synthetic biology is one of the critical sciences of the 21st century. And if Australia doesn’t have a piece of synthetic biology we will be left behind in the technological dust.”
Distinguished Professor Ian Paulsen is a world-leading researcher in membrane transport, microbial genomics, metagenomics, systems biology, bioinformatics and synthetic biology. He is a former ARC Laureate Fellow. Professor Paulsen is currently the Director of the $50 million ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology and the Australian Genome Foundry. Other laurels include Distinguished Professor at Macquarie University, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Royal Society of New South Wales. Paulsen is an ISI Highly Cited Researcher, and Thomson Reuters has identified him as one of the world’s 3000 most influential scientific minds. He has over 350 published papers and an H index of 126. His published work has received significant press attention, including two interviews on Channel 7 news in the last two years, as well as numerous radio and newspaper interviews, including in ABC, the Washington Post and the New York Times
Prof Aleksandra Filipovska is Deputy Director of the centre and a NHMRC Senior Research Fellow. She received her PhD in 2002 from the University of Otago, New Zealand. From 2003-2005 she was a NZ Foundation for Research, Science and Technology Fellow at the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit in Cambridge, the United Kingdom. In 2006, she relocated to Australia as a NHMRC Howard Florey Fellow and established her research group at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research at the University of Western Australia. She was an Australian Research Council Future Fellow until 2014 and since 2014 she has been an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow. In 2019 she established a research group at the Telethon Kids Institute.
Over the past 10 years Prof Filipovska has been awarded more than $12 million in research funding from the Australian Research Council, the NHMRC, Cancer Council WA, Mito Foundation and Diabetes Australia. She has won numerous awards, including the Australian Academy of Sciences Ruth Gani award, the Merck Medal and The Genetics Society of AustralAsia Ross Crozier Medal. Prof Filipovska holds several patents, a licence and is actively involved in the commercialisation of research.
Prof Filipovska’s research interests include the regulation of gene expression by RNA-binding proteins and the use of transcriptomic technologies to elucidate their molecular functions in health and disease. Her research group uses genomic technologies and synthetic biology to design new models of disease, microbes, develop therapeutics, pharmaceuticals and antibiotics.
Professor Brett Neilan is Professor and Global Innovation Chair in Biotechnology at the University of Newcastle. Prof Neilan is a molecular biologist and an expert in the study of natural product genomics. He obtained his PhD in microbial and molecular biology from UNSW in 1995. Prior to his PhD training, he obtained a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in Biomedical Science (1985) at the University of Technology, Sydney and then worked as a medical researcher, hospital scientist and forensic biologist. His postdoctoral position as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship in Berlin was on non-ribosomal peptide biosynthesis genetics. The continuation of this early work and a NASA internship at Stanford University has become the basis for current studies regarding the search for microbial natural products in extreme environments. The main topic of his work is the genetics of toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), leading to an understanding of the biochemical pathways that are responsible for the production of toxins in our water supplies. He has 300 publications, with an H-index of 75, and nine patents. The research has been awarded three Australian Museum Eureka Prizes and the Australian Academy of Science Fenner Medal for studies in the Biological Sciences. He specialises on the synthetic biology and genomics of microbes. Prof Neilan will investigate the mechanisms responsible for the complex biosynthesis of a range of bioactive compounds to inform design and manufacturing of photosynthetic bioreactors.
Prof Nielsen is Professor and Chair of Biological Engineering at The University of Queensland, Senior Group Leader at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology AIBN), and Chief Scientific Officer and Scientific Director at the Novo Nordisk Center for Biosustainability, DTU, Denmark. He is a Director of the Queensland Bioplatforms Australia Node, which provides systems and synthetic biology support to design and build cell factories for the production of fuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. His core research interest is modelling of cellular metabolism and his team has made many contributions to the formulation and use of genome scale models. He recently received a Novo Nordisk Foundation Laureate Research Grant to develop large scale, mathematical models to explore and explain the molecular basis for homeostasis – the self-regulating processes evolved to maintain metabolic equilibrium. Studying homeostasis is relevant for the understanding and treatment of complex diseases, particular with the emergence of personalized medicine. It is equally important when we seek to repurpose the cellular machinery for the production of desired chemicals, materials and pharmaceuticals. Prof Nielsen will lead the Systems Bioengineering capability in CoESB focusing on developing the data infrastructure necessary to capture data from testing, combine with the existing knowledgebase, assess progress against design objectives and guide subsequent designs.
Professor Martie-Louise Verreynne develops and helps organisations to implement state-of-the-art approaches to collaborate for improved innovation outcomes. She is particularly interested in processes and technologies of open innovation, and university-industry collaboration. Her research is published widely in top-tiered journals, influences policy and practice and is funded by the ARC, MRFF, government and industry partners. She has received several awards for research, engagement and a national award for teaching. Martie-Louise serves on several boards in health, sport, agriculture, infrastructure and marine science, and actively works with industry to create research impact.
Dr Sasha Tetu is a molecular microbiologist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, Macquarie University. Sasha obtained her PhD from the University of Sydney, looking at mobile genetic elements within bacterial genomes. As an ARC DECRA Fellow, she showed that human pollutants affect key marine bacteria, resulting in changes in their gene expression, as well as driving community compositional and functional changes. Her research group apply ‘omics and microbial ecology tools to investigate how members of microbial communities interact with each other and adapt to changing conditions, and how this is facilitated by horizontal gene transfer. A particular focus is how bacteria are being affected by, and adapting to, anthropogenic pressures in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. As part of the Synthetic Biology Centre of Excellence, the group are looking at specific mobile gene transfer mechanisms that facilitate bacterial adaptation, with the goal of co-opting these processes to improve microbial stress tolerance and engineer useful traits into beneficial environmental bacteria.
Dr Lawrence Lee received his PhD from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney in 2008 before undertaking a postdoctoral position in the Structural and Computational Biology Division at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. Following this, he moved to his current position at as a UNSW Scientia Senior Lecturer and Group Leader at the EMBL Node for Single Molecule Science in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Dr Lee’s research is focused on understanding how many molecules can self-organise into complex living systems, and on harnessing these principles to construct new nanoscale technologies that build themselves.
Professor Oliver Rackham of Curtin University gained his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Otago, New Zealand. In 2003 Oliver relocated to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, UK, as an MRC Career Development Fellow, working with Professor Jason Chin on re-engineering the genetic code. Oliver established his own group at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in 2006, focused on engineering and understanding gene expression. Oliver’s research has been influential in shaping the field of synthetic biology and in exploring the role of RNA in controlling mitochondrial function and organism physiology. His work has been described as one of the “seminal achievements for synthetic biology” (Faculty of 1000) and resulted in his induction into the European Inventor Hall of Fame in 2013. Oliver is currently an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and Professor at Curtin University. Professor Rackham‘s research falls into two areas of interest: engineering and understanding mammalian gene expression, and synthetic biology using microbial model organisms. His work focuses on developing new tools and therapeutics to target cancer, mitochondrial diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Professor Ian O’Hara is a Principal Research Fellow specialising in industrial biotechnology and bioprocess engineering at Queensland University of Technology. His research interest includes biofuels and bioenergy, biorefining and bioproducts, process engineering, scale-up and techno-economic assessment of new technologies. In 2016, he was appointed by the Queensland Government as the Queensland Biofutures Industry Envoy. As the Envoy, Prof O’Hara provides strategic advice to government and assists in securing domestic and international investment within the Biofutures sector. His research will explore the development of the synthetic biology markets, and pathways to industry development through systems assessment, economic feasibility and scale up demonstration of technologies.
Dr James Behrendorff leads the Industrial Metabolism group at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). The goal of his group is to develop new-to-nature metabolic pathways for converting low value feedstocks into useful biochemicals. Dr Behrendorff received his PhD in Biochemistry from The University of Queensland in 2011 and subsequently worked as a synthetic biology researcher at The University of Queensland and LanzaTech Inc., and was awarded research fellowships at the University of Copenhagen and QUT. He has accumulated broad experience in using synthetic biology to engineer proteins, bacteria, yeasts, and plants. In the near term, the Industrial Metabolism program aims to develop new-to-nature metabolic pathways for converting low-value agricultural residues and waste products into valuable biochemicals. The work also aims to interconnect new metabolic pathways into dynamic and responsive synthetic metabolisms.
Dr Esteban Marcellin is a Group Leader at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland. He is co-director of the Bioplatforms Australia’s Queensland nodes of Metabolomics and Proteomics Australia, providing systems biology services to design cells. He received his PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Queensland in 2010. Research at the Marcellin group aims to capitalise on the opportunity to integrate systems biology and synthetic biology strategies to develop high- performance strains through rational designs, guided via computational models aiming at programming biology. He is motivated by an ever-increasing need to transition production of industrial chemicals and fuels to renewable feedstock to address many of the environmental problems that our planet is facing. The transition requires the development of high-performance microbial cell factories, equivalent to chemical plants that can participate in a circular economy. The Marcellin group uses inexpensive waste resources as feedstock to achieve economically viable bioprocesses. This is necessary to compete with established infrastructure, gain market acceptance and overcome regulatory hurdles. All waste resources (municipal solid waste, agricultural waste or industrial waste) can be gasified. This offers a unique opportunity to use greenhouse gases as fermentation feedstock. Gas fermentation offers numerous advantages for producing sustainable fuels and chemicals from waste streams.
Professor Kirill Alexandrov of Queensland University of Technology obtained his Master’s degree in Invertebrate Zoology at the Leningrad State University, Russia in 1989 and completed his PhD in Cell Biology at EMBL Heidelberg, Germany in 1995. He went on to postgraduate work at the Department of Physical Biochemistry at the Max-Planck Institute in Dortmund, Germany, and remained with the Institute for 12 years, becoming a group leader in 1999. He co-founded the German biotechnology company, JenaBioscience, in 1998 and the UK/Australian SynBio company, MW Diagnostics Ltd (former Molecular Warehouse Ltd), in 2015. He joined the Institute for Molecular Bioscience and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Biotechnology of the University of Queensland, Australia in 2008 as an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. In 2018 he joined Queensland University of Technology as CSIRO-QUT Inaugural Professor of Synthetic Biology. His group is interested in protein engineering of artificial sensing and signal transduction and two-way connectivity between biology and electronics. Prof Alexandrov’s research areas include protein engineering, protein biosynthesis, biosensors and point-of-care diagnostics.
Macquarie University’s Distinguished Professor Nicolle (Nicki) Packer has had an extensive and varied research career in both Chemistry and Biological Sciences. She helped establish the Australian Proteome Analysis Facility (APAF) and co-founded Proteome Systems Ltd, a biotechnology company in which her group developed (glyco) proteomic analytical technology and informatics tools. She has gained national and international recognition for her research in glycomics, using proteomics and bioinformatics approaches and linking it to biological functional research. Nicki has published her research extensively and works closely with industry. She currently holds joint positions as a Distinguished Professor of Glycoproteomics, Director of the MQ Biomolecular Discovery & Design Research Centre, Discovery Leader in the ARC Centre of NanoScale BioPhotonics and Interim Director of APAF at Macquarie University, Sydney, and as Professor of Glycomics at the Institute for Glycomics, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland. Her other achievements include producing three reasonably well-balanced children. Her current research is in the structure, function, informatics and application of glycans and their protein conjugates as molecular targets, focussing on their role in therapeutics and microbial interactions.
Professor Wendy Rogers is Professor of Clinical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Clinical Medicine, and Deputy Director of the Macquarie University Research Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics. Professor Rogers received her medical degree, philosophy degree and PhD from Flinders University in South Australia and was awarded an NMHRC Sidney Sax Fellowship for research into the ethics of evidence based medicine. Following her post-doc, she established and led the medical ethics teaching at Flinders University, receiving a Young Tall Poppy Science Award in 2004. In 2009 she moved to Macquarie University to set up multidisciplinary research projects in bioethics. She held an ARC Future Fellowship from 2014-18. Her research covers a broad range of topics in bioethics, including research ethics, ethics of innovation and new technologies, organ donation, philosophy of medicine and conflicts of interest in research and practice. She received the 2019 NHMRC Ethics award and was named Australia’s field leader in bioethics research in the 2019 research review by The Australian. Nature named her one of the Top Ten people Who Mattered in Science in 2019 from a global field of researchers.
Dr Josh Wodak works at the intersection of the Environmental Humanities and Science & Technology Studies. His research addresses the socio-cultural dimensions of the climate crisis and the Anthropocene, with a focus on the ethics and efficacy of conservation through technoscience, including Synthetic Biology, Assisted Evolution, and Climate Engineering.
He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, UNSW.
Originally trained in Anthropology (University of Sydney, 2002, and Australian National University, 2011) his publications have appeared in Humanities; Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities; Environmental Communication; Transformations: Journal of Media, Culture and Technology; Music and Arts in Action; Unlikely: Journal for Creative Arts; and Futures. His creative outputs include music, artworks, and installations that have been exhibited in art galleries, museums, and festivals around Australia and internationally.
Before joining the ICS in 2020, he was a Lecturer at UNSW Art & Design; a Chief Investigator on the ARC Discovery Project ‘Understanding Australia in The Age of Humans: Localising the Anthropocene’; and a Key Researcher of the Andrew Mellon Australia-Pacific Observatory in Environmental Humanities, Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney.
Brad Sherman is a Professor of Law and ARC Laureate Fellow at The University of Queensland. Professor Sherman’s previous academic positions include posts at Griffith University, the London School of Economics, and the University of Cambridge. His research expertise encompasses many aspects of intellectual property law, with a particular emphasis on its historical, doctrinal, and conceptual development. As well as looking at the impact that the dematerialisation of subject matter created by synthetic biology has on the legal schemes that regulate access and benefit sharing of biological resources, he is also undertaking a history synthetic biology and intellectual property.
J-L Heylen is Chief Operating Officer of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology. J-L has extensive experience in research management, marketing and communications.
We are a world-leading research centre whose goal is to take us beyond what any single, existing microbe on earth can do.