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.”
Professor Paulsen is a Distinguished Professor at Macquarie University, Deputy Director of the Macquarie Biomolecular Frontiers Centre, an ARC Laureate Fellow and an ISI Highly Cited Researcher, with more than 265 publications and a H-index of 111. He leads microbial genomics group, and has particular expertise in the areas of metagenomics, transcriptomics, membrane transport, and bacterial drug resistance.
Over the last five years he has attracted more than $18 million of competitive grant funding. He received a PhD from Monash University and was an NHMRC C.J. Martin Fellow at the University of California at San Diego. He became a faculty member at the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), where he led many microbial genome sequencing projects. He returned to Australia in 2007 as a Professor at Macquarie University and received a Life Science Research Award from the NSW Office of Science and Medical Research. He is the founder and Director of the Synthetic Biology Laboratory at Macquarie University and is directing the Australian node of Yeast 2.0, an international consortium to construct synthetic yeast.
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 Parker is a social scientist and Director of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute (GCI). GCI builds transdisciplinary research partnerships and supports research practices which deliver impact to society, economy, environment and culture. Her work appears in leading international journals, including Economic Geography, Regional Studies, Industrial and Corporate Change, Environment and Planning A, Organization Studies, Political Studies, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice and Work, Employment and Society. Her top 10 publications are in the top 10 percent of most influential journals in the field (SCOPUS). Her research has been funded through seven ARC Grants (including three ARC Discovery Grants as lead Chief Investigator). In addition to academic publications, her research has been published in The Australian Higher Education supplement and The Conversation. In 2018, Professor Parker was a member of the social sciences panel for the ARC Research Engagement and Impact assessment exercise. In 2015, she was invited to appear as an expert witness before the Senate Economic References Committee inquiry into Australia’s innovation system. She has contributed to university research leadership for 10 years as Assistant Dean (Research) QUT Business School and Dean Research Development, Division Research and Commercialisation at QUT. She is Director Centre METS Business Innovation, funded by the Queensland Government and Mining3. Prof Parker’s research analyses how economic power and economic interests drive industry development and change around new technologies and the role that government plays in coordinating the development of new industries for collective benefit.
Distinguished Professor Michael Gillings is an evolutionary biologist with broad ranging interests, including the genetic diversity of bacterial, plant and animal populations; the interaction of the microbiota with animal and plant hosts; the assembly and maintenance of genomic architecture; the dynamics of mobile DNA elements; experimental evolution; the effects of human activities on the biosphere, particularly with regard to antibiotic resistance and antibiotic pollution; and the unpredictability of ecosystem services precipitated by the new era of the Anthropocene. A long-term goal is to establish bridges between the sciences and humanities, reuniting the ‘Two Cultures’ of human achievement. The goals and activities of the Centre will be incorporated into all his teaching, and particularly in the first-year unit Human Biology, which has over 1000 students with the hope that the activities of the Centre will excite and enthuse students of the next generation.
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 Vickers is Director of the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform at CSIRO, Australia’s national research agency. Her early research interests spanned crop plant engineering, plant physiology, abiotic stress and the metabolic regulation of volatile isoprenoids. Over the last decade, she has focussed on metabolic regulation of isoprenoids in plants and microbes, and on developing synthetic biology tools for rational re-engineering of microbial metabolism for production of isoprenoids. Isoprenoids (terpenes) are a large group of natural products with many biological functions and diverse industrial applications. Since 2017 Professor Vickers has led the CSIRO SynBioFSP, a highly collaborative $60 M R&D program aimed at expanding Australia’s synthetic biology capability and ultimately developing a synthetic biology-based industry in the nation. She was founding President of Synthetic Biology Australia and is on the Executive of the International Society for Terpenoids (TERPNET). She served on the expert working groups for Australia’s national synthetic biology roadmap (delivered by the Australian Council of Learned Academies) and the Australian government NCRIS Synthetic Biology Infrastructure Investment Plan; and is a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Fellow. She serves on editorial boards for eight international journals, including as a handing editor for ACS Synthetic Biologyand ASM mSystems. She has Adjunct Professor roles at Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University.
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.
Robert Speight is Professor of Microbial Biotechnology at Queensland University of Technology. His research group focuses on the development and engineering of enzymes and microbial systems for industrial applications. He is the Industrial Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology lead in the Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy in the Institute for Future Environments and Vice President of the Synthetic Biology Australasia society. His background spans the intersection of research and industry and he was formerly a founder and senior manager of the successful UK industrial biotech company, Ingenza Ltd. Prof Speight’s current research has a strong circular economy focus and looks towards generating new processes for manufacturing chemicals, materials and new livestock feed supplements. These projects also aim to recycle, process and add value to wastes or low value co-products from the agriculture and textile industries in particular. His research involves teams of researchers from science, engineering, design, law and business working with industry partners and other
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 a research management professional with over 20 years of experience in research development positions in the tertiary sector. J-L played a mission critical role in the CoESB bid team as Major Initiatives Manager at Macquarie University, advising on bid strategy, budgeting, centre design, and governance. Before this, J-L was a Research Partnerships Manager at Macquarie University Research Services. They came to MQ from the role of Senior Manager Research Development at ACU’s Institute of Positive Psychology and Education, leading research strategy.
J-L leads the CoESB operations, policy, administration, finance, governance, and communications & outreach functions; contributes to decision-making and strategy as part of the Centre’s Executive Management Committee; leads the Centre’s professional staff team at MQ and other university nodes; and is the Centre’s resident expert in ARC funding rules and the role of partners and stakeholders in the Centre.
Outside of their role at the CoESB, J-L writes sci-fi and steampunk novels, short stories, and screenplays. They also sit on the board of directors of a social enterprise called intertwine, who specialise in providing inclusion, diversity, and intersectionality awareness, training, and policy advice to government and not-for-profit community enterprises.
A former journalist, award-winning filmmaker and digital storyteller, Mary has more than 15 years experience in science communication. She was Director of Digital Communications at UNSW Sydney, where she founded UNSWTV, the main channel for UNSW Sydney. SBS voted it among the Top 5 Science Channels in 2016 and it was one of the most recommended YouTube education channels worldwide. Mary has extensive experience in bringing research and development to life, working in partnership with researchers to translate their work for the broadest possible audience – public, potential donors, industry partners and funding bodies. In her documentary work, she has produced content for ABCTV, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Channel 7 and Channel 10 Australia. She has scripted and produced events for the World Science Festival, trained speakers in TED-style talks and been a judge of the annual SCINEMA and ATOM awards. She has also run Cluster, her own media consultancy and digital content agency. Outside of her role at CoESB, Mary is deeply involved in telling the stories of Indigenous communities in the Pacific, as well as arts and community development work in regional Australia.
We are a world-leading research centre whose goal is to take us beyond what any single, existing microbe on earth can do.