Friday, 10 October 2014

PhD scholarships available

We have a number of PhD scholarships available as part of my ARC Laureate Fellowship- Here's our advertising blurb:

ARC Laureate Fellowship PhD Scholarships- Marine Cyanobacteria

Photosynthetic marine microorganisms are responsible for the production of half of the oxygen in our atmosphere, equal to the contribution of all land-based vegetation. They underpin the entire marine food web and shape the health and sustainability of all ocean resources.  Despite their critical role we know surprisingly little about this crucial group. The Paulsen research group is using a range of cutting edge methodologies (ecogenomics, transcriptomics, single-cell analyses, mass spectrometry, bioinformatics and modelling) to investigate the lifestyle of these key primary producers.

We are looking for motivated candidates with excellent academic records to join our ARC Laureate Award funded research team. Our group is located in a state-of-the-art research facility which is part of the Biomolecular Frontiers Research Centre within Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.  Our dynamic research team has a wide range of expertise in microbiology, molecular biology, oceanography, bioinformatics, systems and synthetic biology. We currently have a number of scholarships (both Masters and PhD) that span the following research areas:

      1.     Ecogenomics, evolution and interactions in natural environments:
This research project will involve fieldwork at coastal sites and on Australia’s new research vessel RV Investigator, working in blue water from the tropics to the Antarctic ice-edge. Techniques include single cell genomics and Stable-Isotope-Probing to unravel interactions and trace the flow of cyanobacteria-derived compounds and energy through the ecosystem.

2.      How marine cyanobacterial adapt to environmental change
Many variable factors, biotic (microbial competition, infection, predation) and abiotic (seawater chemistry and physical parameters), influence the distribution and survival of marine cyanobacteria. A range of interdisciplinary projects will use a combination of "omics" tools (e.g. comparative genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics) to study the molecular responses of these microbes to relevant environmental factors.

3.      Building virtual cyanobacteria
Developing computational models at both a single cell and ecosystem level.  This project will create and model metabolic processes, and generate working virtual cell/ecosystem units supported by experimental data. This research will deliver the first model of marine phototrophic organism and address fundamental questions such as ‘what defines the minimal set of genes required for a free living photosynthetic organism?’

4.      Cyanobacterial transporter characterisation
Membrane transporters have a central role in determining the success of an individual in any given environment; essential for nutrient import, waste export and maintenance of osmolarity. This project will have an informatic focus, involving developing tools for handling large datasets, algorithms for transporter characterisation and visualisation. Transporter characterisation is a long-term interest and strength of the Paulsen group and this project will integrate closely with the cyanobacterial modelling work.

5. Synthetic Biology, building a molecular tool kit
Novel gene circuits that respond to signals in a predictable way can be built experimentally by modelling metabolic and regulatory networks in silico. This project will identify and optimise vital molecular pathways within cyanobacteria and develop genetic tools to undertake high-throughput mutant screens, validate models and enable us to optimise cyanobacteria for bioengineering.

These PhD positions carry scholarships of AUD$25,392 per annum, tax exempt.

Application process:
Interested individuals are invited to discuss these projects with Laureate Fellow Professor Paulsen ( Initial expression of interest should contain a CV and short statement of your research interests. There is potential for additional projects which connect to the overall research focus of the group to be considered and developed together with prospective candidates.

Application for the PhD positions will be through the Macquarie University HDR website. Please see the website and links within for further information about eligibility and submission procedures. (

Learn more about Macquarie University's profile, the facilities available and its campus life ( and

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

I have the grey hairs to prove it

Macquarie University has apparently noticed the grey hairs I'm starting to get, they announced last week that I am one of six new Distinguished Professors. On top of that, on the same day, the Macquarie University Research Excellence Awards were presented, and Karl Hassan and I won the Research Excellence Prize in Science and Engineering. They made 90 second videos summaries for each of the research projects nominated for an award. Here's the video for our project on identification of a new type of bacterial drug efflux pump-


Yeast 2.0 on the radio

I was interviewed on 2SER this morning on the topic of yeast 2.0, biofuels and beer.
Transcript and podcast can be found here.
Louise Brown came along for moral support and snapped this action shot of the back of my head:

Thursday, 25 September 2014

So You Think you can Synthesize?

Macquarie University has once again entered a team of undergraduate students to compete in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) synthetic biology competition. Over the last four years, our teams have won 3 silver and 1 bronze medals. This year our team is hoping to win a gold medal, though they do have one handicap- I will be coming along with them as a team advisor to the iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston.

This year as an outreach activity, our iGEM team has created an online reality contest "So You Think You can Synthesize" where you can ask our student team any burning question you have about synthetic biology through a live chat feed and can vote for your favourite scientist. Looks like we are down to the last four scientific contestants now! You can also find videos about each of the eliminated contestants and about our team's experiences in iGEM here.

iGEM team hard at work

Monday, 22 September 2014

There is no I in team, but there is one in Ian

On Friday, I took the labgroup out for a team building exercise, and nothing builds team spirit like shooting each other with lasers! So we went out and played lasertag and ten-pin bowling.
So what did we learn from this outing-
- running around like a maniac with a laser is a good workout, my muscles still ache 3 days later
- being a sneaky sniper does not work as a lasertag strategy- after I was shot by Liam five times in the first 30 seconds or so, I realised running around like a kitten on ritalin is a much more effective strategy
- you definitely want Silas on your team in any sporting activity, he kicked ass in both bowling and lasertag
- it was good to finish up with pool and darts as it gave me the opportunity to win back some respect on the pool table

Lab group bowling

photo of me playing lasertag

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Congrats Deepa!

Deepa Varkey is a PhD student in my group working on how marine cyanobacteria adapt to different temperatures. She has just won a prize for the best poster at the 9th European Workshop on the Molecular Biology of Cyanobacteria in the Netherlands. Great job Deepa!

Deepa and her prize winning poster

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Eureka Awards

Last night, I was at the Eureka Awards Dinner. The Eureka Awards have been described as the Australian Science equivalent of the Oscars. While not quite as glamorous as the Oscars, it was nevertheless a black tie event at the Sydney Town Hall, and we did have some media celebrities present, such as Adam Spencer and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. It was also the second top hottest topic on Twitter yesterday in Australia.

I was not nominated for an Award, but was there to fly the flag for Macquarie University. I was very excited that MQ's Professor Lesley Hughes won the Eureka Prize in the category of Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research for her tireless efforts in communicating the science of climate change. Congratulations to Lesley and to all of the award winners of the 2014 Eureka Prizes. The full list of the 2014 Eureka Prize results can be found here.

The dessert was certainly glamorous