• Academics

    Madeleine van Oppen

    I was originally trained in marine ecology, developed as an ecological geneticist post-BSc and began to study corals in 1997 and coral-associated microorganism in 2000. My microbial studies were initially limited to the dinoflagellate endosymbionts of corals, but more recently I have ventured into the study of other microbial groups that inhabit corals, including prokaryotes, viruses, and fungi.

    My group’s current research focuses on the field of coral reef restoration, in particular the development of coral stock better able to cope with disturbed environments and predicted future ocean conditions (assisted evolution). This includes the manipulation of microbial communities associated with corals, laboratory evolution of algal endosymbionts, selective breeding of corals, and the conditioning of corals to predicted future ocean conditions.

    I completed my PhD on the molecular biogeography of seaweeds at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) in 1995, and subsequently conducted postdoctoral positions at the University of East Anglia, UK (speciation in cichlid fishes), and James Cook University, Australia (Molecular relationships in the coral genus Acropora, and Genetic diversity and specificity of acroporid coral-dinoflagellate symbioses). In 2001, I took up a position at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), Townsville. I commenced my position as a professor in the School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, in 2015, while still maintaining a part-time position as Senior Principal Research Scientist at AIMS. I currently hold an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship (2019-2023).

    E-mail:                         Link to AIMS page

    Linda Blackall

    Linda is an environmental microbial ecologist, who has studied many different complex microbial communities ranging from host associated through to free living in numerous environments. Her research has covered mammalian microbiomes of marsupials, humans, ruminants and horses; and the microbiota of non-mammals including corals and sponges. Environmental microbiomes explored in Linda’s research span wastewater treatment (aerobic and anaerobic), solid waste digestion (landfill and composting), bioelectric systems and microbiologically influenced corrosion. The numerous methods she develops and employs in her research allow elucidation of microbial complexity and function in these diverse biomes.



  • Postdoctoral researchers

    Patrick Buerger

    Patrick Buerger is a postdoctoral researcher with CSIRO's Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform and the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on climate change and anthropogenic impacts on coral reef ecosystems. Using genetic engineering and a range of Omics technologies, he investigates the thermal resilience of algal symbionts in corals. Patrick completed his PhD in Marine Science at James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. His work highlighted viruses as potential contributors to and mitigators of the coral black band disease and white syndrome.

    Prior to his research in Australia, Patrick obtained an MSc in Tropical Marine Ecology at the University of Bremen and a BSc in General Biology at the Ruhr-University of Bochum.
    If Patrick is not in the laboratory, he is passionate about innovative technologies that improve environmental conservation and science communication.


    Wing Chan

    My research focuses on coral reef conservation and restoration. I commenced my postdoc at the University of Melbourne in 2019 and my project examines the feasibility of enhancing coral climate resilience via the introduction of resilient microalgal endosymbionts. I completed my PhD at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Melbourne, exploring the potential of hybridization as a tool for coral reef conservation.

    My Honours Degree at the Australian National University investigated the calcification responses of corals to diurnal variation in seawater carbonate chemistry. Other than coral reefs, I have also been involved in research on marine micro-plastics, radioactive dating, and isotope analysis. Outside the office, I am passionate about science outreach and aviation, and serve as a helicopter flight instructor.


    Justin Maire

    I am originally from Lyon, France, where I completed all my studies. I did both my master’s and my PhD under the supervision of Dr’s Abdelaziz Heddi and Anna Zaidman-Rémy, and worked on the obligate symbiosis between the cereal weevil Sitophilus and its bacterial endosymbiont Sodalis pierantonius. S. pierantonius provides its insect host with vitamins and amino acids, allowing Sitophilus to thrive exclusively on cereals. As such, Sitophilus is considered as a major crop pest around the world. In a first project, I investigated the mechanisms preventing a chronic host immune activation because of the constant association with immunogenic bacteria. Then, I studied how this association is modulated across the insect's lifecycle, particularly during metamorphosis.

    I recently joined Prof. Madeleine van Oppen’s lab in Melbourne for my first postdoc. My project will be part of the important effort to enhance coral’s climate resilience through assisted evolution. My projects involve the identification and characterization of closely-associated bacterial symbionts of Symbiodiniaceae and cnidarians, and in fine the genetic engineering of those symbionts to improve stress resistance in the coral holobiont.


  • Postgraduate researchers

    PhD Candidates 

    Cecile Ravn Gøtze

    Originally from Denmark, I have always been surrounded by a long coastline which early on sparked a life-long penchant for the sea. Following a career in design and tailoring, I decided to pursue a more engaging and satisfying career path and so I completed my Master’s degree in Microbial Ecology at the University of Copenhagen. Inspired by findings on the importance of the gut microbiome in mammalian health, I have since become fascinated with studying microbial activity and coral-associated microbes through microsensor and genetic approaches. 

    It has long been known that corals are comprised of a wide array of microorganisms, although a lot remains unknown about the interplay between microbial partners and coral host. Under the supervision of Prof Madeleine van Oppen, Prof Linda Blackall and Dr. Lone Høj the majority of my graduate research will be carried out at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, AIMS. Here, I will try to decipher coral microbiome interactions and function by studying the minimal microbiome, which constitutes the smallest subset of coral-associated symbiont on which the host depends for its survival.  


    Talisa Döring

    received my Bachelor of Science in Biology from the Free University in Berlin, Germany, but I conducted the research for my undergraduate thesis at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany. There, I worked in the research unit of Marine Evolutionary Ecology and analysed the transgenerational phenotypic plasticity of marine sticklebacks to simulated climate change. Afterwards, I completed my Master of Science in Biological Oceanography at Christian-Albrecht University of Kiel. During my master thesis in the unit Marine Symbioses at GEOMAR and Phuket Marine Biological CenterThailand, I tested whether a coral microbiome transplantation procedure using a fresh tissue homogenate of heat tolerant donor colonies of Pocillopora verrucosa can increase coral bleaching resilience of heat sensitive conspecifics. After my studies, I continued to work as a research assistant at GEOMAR and performed a similar study with Porites lutea colonies.   

    I started my PhD at the end of 2019 under the supervision of Prof.’s Madeleine van Oppen, Linda Blackall and David Francis. My research aims at developing successful bacterial probiotics and probiotic techniques that enhance coral bleaching resilience. I am working with the sea anemone Exaiptasia diaphana and one coral species, Galaxea fascicularis. 


    Rania Ismail

    (Information to come)

    Ashley Dungan

    Originally from NY, USA, I completed my Bachelors of Science degree in Biology in 2011, conducting a senior research project in the field of environmental microbiology. I completed my Master’s degree at Nova Southeastern University in Florida under Dr. Nicole Fogarty, where I studied the impact of ocean acidification on the calcification of Caribbean adult and juvenile corals. After graduating in 2015, I worked for Mote Marine Laboratory in the Florida Keys as a Staff Chemist in the Ocean Acidification program; there I continued my work with corals and began working with Diadema antillarum, the long-spined sea urchin. Beginning early 2017, I joined Prof.’s Madeleine van Oppen and Linda Blackall at the University of Melbourne as a Ph.D student. My current research focuses on developing a bacterial probiotic to mitigate coral bleaching and assessing the efficacy of that probiotic using the model organism for corals, Exaiptasia diaphana. My research interests are in the field of climate change, coral reef ecosystems, and assisted evolution.



    Giada Tortorelli

    I received my BSc in Marine Biology and my MSc in Biodiversity and Evolution from the Alma Mater Studiorium University of Bologna, Italy. As a master and then postgraduate student, I investigated the impacts of global warming on the reproduction of a scleractinian temperate coral along a natural temperature and solar radiation gradient; it is here that I developed a deep interest and passion in coral biology. As a PhD candidate in the Marine Microbial Symbioses Group at the University of Melbourne, I work under the supervision of Prof McFadden, Prof van Oppen and Prof Davy. My focus is the symbiosis between Cnidarian and Symbiodiniaceae dinoflagellates that power coral reefs, using the anemone Exaiptasia diaphana as model organism to study corals. I am interested in the initial steps during the establishment of this mutualistic association: based on the hypothesis that Symbiodiniaceae endosymbionts and Apicomplexa parasites arose from a common ancestor that invented a powerful recognition system and mechanisms for invading and surviving in the host, my main aim is to investigate the inter-partner signalling and molecular events that allow recognition between host and photosymbionts in the setup of symbiosis.


    Annika Lamb

    I am interested in using genetic and molecular approaches to better understand and inform the conservation of wildlife. I completed my Bachelor of Biomedical Science and Bachelor of Science (Hons) majoring in Genetics and Ecology and Conservation at Monash University. During my Honours year, I investigated whether the mitochondrial genomes of Australian birds have evolved under climate-driven selection.

    I began my PhD in 2018, supervised by Madeleine van Oppen, Peter Harrison, Ary Hoffmann and Craig Humphrey. My research investigates interspecific hybridisation as a novel option for reef management, particularly in the context of producing more resilient coral stock (compared to the native stock) for coral reef restoration initiatives.


    Hugo Scharfenstein

    Originally from Paris, France, I pursued my tertiary studies in the UK where I completed a BSc in Biology at the University of Bristol, followed by a MSc in Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh. After my studies, I worked at the Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research in Porto, Portugal, on the discovery of marine natural products in cyanobacteria. During this time I started to investigate the capacity of free-living Symbiodiniaceae to form symbiolites (i.e., microbialites containing Symbiodiniaceae cells).

    I joined the Marine Microbial Symbioses group in early 2020 as a PhD candidate under the supervision of Professor Madeleine van Oppen. I am currently based at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, where my research is focused on establishing new symbioses between aposymbiotic corals and heat stress tolerant Symbiodiniaceae that were previously developed through experimental evolution. These bioengineered corals will be tested for improved bleaching resilience at elevated temperatures, in the hope of developing a new approach for coral reef conservation and adaptation.


    Master students

    Sarah Jane Tsang Min Ching

    Originally from the tropical island Mauritius, I completed my Bachelor of Science at Northeastern University in Boston, USA with a double major in marine biology and environmental science with a concentration in wildlife studies. I am currently in the first year of my Master of Science (BioSciences) degree under the supervision of Dr.'s Patrick Buerger, Wing Chan and Madeleine van Oppen. My research project aims at examining the physiological performance of cnidarian animals that associate with different types of lab-evolved Symbiodiniaceae and determining the potential trade-offs that could result from establishing symbiosis with those algal symbionts.


    Karla Heric

    I studied a Bachelor of Science with a major in Genetics at The University of Melbourne. During my undergraduate studies, I completed a summer research internship at CSIRO, where I observed how genetic technologies are being implemented to preserve ecosystems, strengthening my interest in environmental conservation. I am currently studying a Master of Science (Biosciences) supervised by Madeleine van Oppen and Justin Maire. My research project focuses on the symbiosis between coral algae and their associated bacteria, and aims to characterise the function of bacterial strains believed to play a role in algal climate resistance.


    Camila Pintos

    I completed a Bachelor of Biotechnology in 2017 in my home country, Paraguay. Here, I was involved in research projects in the field of environmental and industrial biotechnology, studying the bioprospecting capabilities of isolated bacteria. Currently, I am in my second year of the Master of Biotechnology at The University of Melbourne and undertaking my research project under the supervision of Prof. Linda Blackall. My project aims to use metabarcoding analysis to screen microbial species present in river samples from the Murray-Darling Basin and gain understanding about the ecosystem. My research interests are in the field of applied microbial diversity and bioprospection.


    Rumi Sakamoto

    Originally from Japan, I completed a Bachelor of Science with a major in Environmental Science at the University of Melbourne in 2019. During my undergraduate studies, I gained an interest in the conservation of species sustainability and diversity under climate change scenarios. I started studying a Master of Science (BioSciences) under the supervision of Prof. Madeleine van Oppen and Dr. Wing Chan in 2020. My research project involves the examination of bleached corals which have lost their associated Symbiodiniaceae species, and aims to understand the establishment of the different Symbiodiniaceae genera within adult corals.



  • Staff

    Giulia Holland – Research Assistant

    I completed my Bachelor of Science at The University of Melbourne, majoring in marine biology with a broad interest in ecology and climate change. Having completed a research project at the Marine Microbial Symbiont Facility during my undergraduate degree where I characterised the bacterial communities in Exaiptasia diaphana, I now work as a research assistant at the MMSF. Here, I am helping to characterise the prokaryotic microbiome of the corals Plesiastrea verispora and Galaxea spp., through the collection of pure cultures and metabarcoding. In 2019, I began a Master of Environment at The University of Melbourne.


    Ruby Vanstone – Research Assistant

    Description to come



    Kelly – Lab Dog

    Kelly is a three-year-old golden retriever. While in the office she specialises in mental health and emotional support, her full time job is as a breeding dog for Seeing Eye Dogs Vision Australia. Elite Seeing Eye Dogs are sourced from SEDs own “in-house” breeding program. Kelly lives and goes to work with her Breeder Carer, Ashley, where she enjoys all the comforts of dog life. See SEDs breeder caring web page for more information.


    Ocean – Lab Dog

    Ocean is a puppy-in-training for Seeing Eye Dogs Vision Australia. When she grows up, Ocean hopes that one day she will be an invaluable part of someone’s life who is blind or has low vision. For now, she’ll focus on learning basic obedience, getting comfortable in working environments, and being exposed to the noises of everyday life. Ocean lives and goes to work with her puppy raiser, Ashley, and Auntie Kelly. See SEDs puppy caring web page for more information.



  • Alumni

    Leon Hartman – Former PhD Student

    Microbial communities hosted by cnidarians show evidence of both dynamism and stability, with change suggestive of adaptation by the holobiont to environmental stress. My research investigates whether Exaiptasia diaphana's thermal tolerance can be enhanced through manipulation of its prokaryotic communities. Comparison of metabolite production by thermally stressed anemones inoculated with native and manipulated communities will be used to measure the effect of this approach.


    Katarina Damjanovic – Former PhD Student

    After completing both Bachelor and Masters degrees in Life Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (Switzerland), I started my PhD in October 2015 at the University of Melbourne. The major part of my research is conducted at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, where I investigate the feasibility of manipulating coral-associated bacteria (with the aim to enhance coral stress tolerance). Focusing on the corals Acropora tenuis and Platygyra daedalea (both broadcast spawners), as well as Pocillopora acuta (also a brooder), my experiments consist in inoculating early life stages of these corals with microbiomes and assessing the efficiency and persistence of the inoculations. Larvae and recruits exposed to various microbes are reared under controlled conditions and their microbiomes are regularly characterised through 16S rRNA gene metabarcoding. I also use fluorescence in situ hybridisation microscopy to gain insights into the transmission modes of bacteria in A. tenuis and P. acuta.


    Keren Maor-Landaw – Former Postdoctoral Researcher

    My post-doctoral studies focus on membrane transporters that are crucial to the cnidarian-Symbiodiniaceae symbiotic relationship. The symbiotic algae provide energy by transferring their photosynthetic production to the host and in return derive benefits from the host in the form of nutrients and shelter. Successful exchange of compounds through membranes is a fundamental key feature enabling the effective partnership and must be facilitated by proteins in the cellular membranes of each of the partners as well as in the symbiosome interface.

    As a PhD student in Bar Ilan University, Israel, supervised by Prof. Oren Levy, I explored how corals respond to climate change and which cellular processes are involved during environmental stress. I compared the gene expression response of corals possessing different morphologies and corals from different ecosystems – sub tropical to temperate corals.

    My MSc at Haifa University, Israel, under the supervision of Prof. Dan Tchernov and Prof. Sarit Larisch, was focused on the apoptotic enzyme Caspase 3 in a Mediterranean coral following an ocean acidification scenario, and its correlation to a unique ecophenotye.


    Hannah Epstein – Former PhD Student

    I am a PhD candidate at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU and the Australian Institute of Marine Science under the supervision of Prof. Madeleine van Oppen, Prof. Philip Munday and Dr. Gergely Torda. My research explores the main drivers of community composition in the coral microbiome to inform the development of microbiome engineering techniques that may enhance climate resilience in corals. My project is part of a larger collaborative study led by Madeleine van Oppen and Ruth Gates (Hawai’i Institute of Marine Science) researching assisted evolution approaches for corals in the face of climate change.

    Hannah completed her PhD in October 2018 and is now a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Victoria, Canada.


    Leela Chakravarti – Former PhD Student

    Leela has completed her PhD in February 2019, working on the thermal tolerance of coral-associated algal photosymbionts.


    Sam Girvan – Former Masters Student

    With a keen interest in marine biology and genetics I completed my Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne with a double major in zoology and marine biology. I finished my Masters of Bioscience degree in 2019 under the supervision of Dr.'s Patrick Buerger and Madeleine van Oppen at the University of Melbourne. My research project aimed to discover whether the algae-associated bacterial communities have evolved alongside the algae, potentially allowing the observed increase in algal thermal tolerance determined from previous studies.


    Roy Belderock – Former Masters Student

    I completed my masters at University of Amsterdam. My main interests are conservation genetics, adaptation and symbiotic interactions in reef ecosystems. Especially the interest in symbiotic interactions is what brought me to this lab.

    In the past I gained experience studying reproductive isolation in Caribbean giant barrel sponges by applying histological techniques in combination with DNA barcoding. At the Marine Microbial Symbiont Facility, I expanded on that skill set with Symbiodiniaceae reinfection experiments on Exaiptasia diaphana. In addition, I also worked on inducing sexual reproduction of E. diaphana. The larvae could help the team to study the Symbiodiniaceae recognition pathway in early life stages.


    Gabriela Lozano Rodriguez

    I am passionate about working to preserve the environment and have worked on a number of projects in this field. Before moving to Australia to study a Master of Biotechnology at the University of Melbourne, I spent five years working in environmental, chemical and pharmaceutical industries in Mexico. My earlier research projects have related to the purification, structural elucidation and mechanism of action of toxins produced by fire coral (Millepora alcicornis) to understand its potential medicinal applications. I am currently working as a Research Assistant at the Marine Microbial Symbioses Group at the University of Melbourne where I am working to develop a spawning protocol for multiple genotypes of coral. I love the outdoors and spend as much time as I can hiking and playing flag football.