I am currently the Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Science. Previously, I was Deputy Head of School and the Director of Research in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. My research area is environmental microbiology and I specialise in uncovering Antarctica's soil biodiversity by performing discovery-based and applied research. I am passionate about integrating 'omics' with innovative cultivation methods to the isolate and describe the diversity and functional capacity of 'extreme' microbial communities. By doing so, my team discovered a previously overlooked carbon fixation process where bacteria literally ‘live on thin air’. We coined this microbial-based process ‘atmospheric chemosynthesis’ and published these findings in the prestigious journal Nature. My team also works on using microbes as indicators of soil health, for the assessment of ecosystem recovery during bioremediation and for developing site-specific ecotoxicity assessments. My future goals are to continue to challenge our understanding of the nutritional limits and the boundaries of life, while training the next generation of confident scientists.
I am a supportive, approachable supervisor with my team being comprised of a high number of PhD and Honours students
Leadership and Service
I have built up strong partnerships across both the Biotechnology industry and government bodies in Australia. My research has real-world applications, driving remediation targets, guideline derivation and conservation efforts in Antarctica.
In Antarctic soils, microbes are the most dominant lifeform and thus they drive geochemical processes, particularly carbon and nitrogen cycling. My research is aimed at unravelling the breadth of microbial diversity and their functioning in soil. My team focuses on microbial dark matter, that is bacteria, archaea and fungi that are yet-to-be cultured or characterised. By integrating single-cell with genomics and new multivariate analyses, my group is exploring the ecology of microbes in both pristine and contaminated soils.
Through collaboration with the Australian Antarctic Division, we are using molecular tools to evaluate soil health in response to both natural and man-made disturbances, from hydrocarbon contamination through to climate induced change. My research is world-class, and of high impact, with our recent discovery of Antarctica bacteria surviving by literally living on air published in the journal Nature. My research is challenging our understanding of the nutritional limits required to support life and opens the possibility for life elsewhere.
Please see Ferrarilab.org for more details including information on our recent expedition to the Windmill Islands, east Antarctica.