Christopher Hunter Lean (He/Him)


Topics of expertise:
Environmental Ethics Biodiversity Community Evolution Wild Release of Engineered Organisms Yeast


Research skills

My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science from the University of Sydney, receiving first-class honours in History and Philosophy of Science. This gave me a broad knowledge of history, sociology, and philosophy of science. My PhD thesis in Philosophy was at the Australian National University, the third-ranked Philosophy Department in the World (QS University Ranking), and I graduated in December 2019. My dissertation, written under the supervision of Prof. Kim Sterelny, and entitled Ecological Kinds and the Units of Conservation, focuses on the ontology of conservation science and its consequences for measuring biodiversity. This work lies at the intersection of the philosophy of science, metaphysics, ethics, and policy. I have published multiple papers from this project and my subsequent research in a range of journals. My publications have consistently been placed in high-ranked journals. My primary areas of research are the philosophy of technology (synthetic biology, big data, bioethics), philosophy of biology and ecology (metaphysics of science, explanation), environmental ethics (biodiversity, restoration ecology, and invasive species), and philosophy of medicine (disease concepts, cancer).

My background is not restricted to philosophy but also biology. I have an undergraduate education which includes molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry. I have published several papers in scientific journals including in PNAS. I actively seek out multidisciplinary and collaborative research and it has featured as a core part of my research agenda. Most recently my grant “The Native Yeast Biobank: A Resource for Synbio Research” involves a team of three microbial biologists, a media designer, and myself. We also have industry support from breweries and a biotechnology company. We have been communicating with industry partners on what they need from a yeast biobank.

Before joining the CoESB, I was working in a position jointly hired by the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Dalhousie under Prof Ford Doolittle. Our research group comprised philosophers, molecular biologists, evolutionary biologists, geneticists, and mathematical modellers. Before this I worked on genetic databases and the law, I wrote a paper discussing the possible uses of genetic genealogies in sentencing with two lawyers. As such, I can engage with a range of research areas and form collaborations across the arts and sciences.

Education or training skills

I have varied teaching experience at the undergraduate level, across multiple areas of specialisation and departments. I tutored and guest lectured ‘Environmental Philosophy’ at the University of Sydney in late 2019. For the first semester of 2018, I coordinated, designed, and lectured ‘Philosophy of Biology’ and ‘Philosophy of Science’ at the University of Otago, New Zealand. I have coordinated, developed, and lectured a course at the University of Sydney, ‘How Biology Matters for Philosophy’, and designed and lectured half of their ‘Philosophy of Sex’ course. At the Australian National University, I have co-convened and lectured a course on Philosophy of Biology and tutored ‘Introduction to Philosophy’, ‘Philosophy of Science’, and ‘Biology, Ethics and Society’. I also designed and co-ordinated an online ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ course at the University of Utah. ‘Biology, Ethics and Society’ I tutored twice, with guest lecturers, (2017, 2018) to extremely positive feedback; it was taught in the science faculty to 200 students and encompassed moral issues arising from modern biotechnology and bioinformatics. I could design multiple innovative courses on various topics related to technology, applied ethics, biology, conservation, and medicine, e.g. Philosophy and Technology; Science, Ethics, and Society; Bioethics; Science Denialism; Climate Change and Sustainability; Philosophy of Biology; Environmental Ethics; and Philosophy of Ecology.

Scientific communication skills

My career has involved a significant portion of public communication. I have presented at 23 refereed conferences and 13 Department Colloquiums. A highlight is that I was the keynote address at the 2021 Australian Postgraduate Philosophy Conference where I spoke on Invasive Species and Environmental Ethics. My first significant media engagement was in 2018 when The National Geographic approached me for comments on the article “Human caused extinctions have set mammal evolution back millions of years”. This was concerning my work on biodiversity advocating for conservation to be directed towards preserving phylogenetic diversity. Under my philosophy of law post-doctoral position, I explored the implications of data technology, critically engaging with the epistemological and ethical issues resulting from internet genealogical databases. This has yielded several pieces of public philosophy. In January 2020, I published in The Conversation “Cousin took a DNA test? Courts could use it to argue you are more likely to commit crimes” (with Allan McCay) and have done several follow-up radio interviews. The most extended of these was “A Relatives Online DNA Test Could Be Used in Your Court Case” interview with 2SER (29.1.2020) and a shorter interview with ABC Adelaide. In print interviews followed with The Law Society Journal publishing “Cracking Cold Cases: is it in our genes?” in 2021.

In April of 2023, I was given a two-part podcast in Philosophers Zone for the Australian Broadcast Corporation on “De-extinction”. Following I was recorded speaking on this topic for an exhibition submitted to the “Not Natural” exhibit at the University of Melbourne.

Some of the selective conferences I have presented at include the Philosophy of Science Association, the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, the New Zealand Association of Philosophy, the Sydney-Munich-Tilburg Philosophy of Science Conference, the Rocky Mountain Ethics Conference, and the Australian Association of Philosophy. My invited colloquia span many institutions and countries; within just the last two years I have presented at the University of Melbourne (2022), the National Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (2022), the University of Leeds (2022), the Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology (2021), University of Dalhousie (2021), and the Montreal-based Groupe De Recherche en Ethique Environementale (2020).

Grant writing skills

I have written grants for several years, of which I have been awarded funding worth $204,500. This record is relatively high for a scholar within the Arts. This includes:

A) Forrest Prospect Fellowship at the University of Western Australia ‘Synthetic Biology and Conservation’ (One and half years of funding equalling $142,500). This was declined to take a position at Western Sydney University.
B) EMCR Seed Fund ($25,000) “The Native Yeast Biobank: A Resource for Synbio Research”. Primary Investigator (PI) of a team of five.
C) Bio-Platforms Australia Multiomics Grant ($25,000) “Wild Yeast Biobank: Multiomics in the Wild” Primary Investigator (PI) of a team of five.
D) Inspire NSW/ QLD “Untapped Potential! Wild Yeast and You” $12,000 (AI).

In addition, I wrote the application for preforming at the Woodford Folk Festival which was successful. The Wild Yeast Zoo team will be presenting on stage on the value of undiscovered Australian biodiversity and leading guided walks through the bush to sample wildflowers for wild yeast. This festival is attended by 5000 people.

I have written several large unsuccessful grants and have experience in putting these together.


  • PhD or Doctor of Medicine
    Philosophy of Science (Biology and Ecology) from Australian National University
Other Details
  • Lab Membership Organisation: Wendy Rogers (MQ)
  • Research Theme: Microbial Communities
  • Research Capability: Social Dimensions