Adjunct Professor Brett Neilan
Adjunct Professor

Adjunct Professor Brett Neilan

School of Biotech & Biomolecular Science


I am a molecular biologist and an expert in the study of microbial chemistry and the origins and evolution of life. The main topic of our work is the genetics of toxic bacteria and algae and the research has led to an understanding of the biochemical pathways that are responsible for the production of toxins in water supplies and seafood. The ultimate goal of this work is to understand how the physiologies of microbial life (algal and bacterial) have formed the plant we live on today, how they may have left their mark elsewhere in the universe, and how they can be exploited for biotechnology


  • PhD in Molecular and Microbial Science (UNSW, 1995)
  • BAppSc in Biomedical Science (Biochemistry) (UTS, 1985)


My Research Goals

  • Characterise the genetics of marine and plant symbiont microbial natural products
  • Understand the factors that influence the production of toxins and other bioactive small molecules
  • Study the genetic and chemical constituents of fossilised and extant microbial communities in extreme environments
  • Exploit this knowledge for industrial microbiology and biotechnology

My Research in Detail

My group uses chemistry and genetics to study the basis for microbial chemistry and evolution. Our interests can be divided into several programs that are linked by the underlying theory that the diversity of life on Earth is the basis for the evolution of natural products and other biotechnologies. The measurement of biological diversity and detection of previously unknown organisms is essential to the process of drug discovery and successive drug design. The projects described below expose students to the latest in cutting-edge molecular, cellular and analytical technologies that are prerequisite for employment or future research in the biomedical and environmental sciences. A major consideration in our work is the professional and public communication of our research findings. We have published more than 230 peer reviewed articles, patented and licenced five inventions, and regularly present information to the media and government agencies.

Professional affiliations and service positions

Current Membership of Scientific Societies. Member (elect) of the Australian Society for Microbiology and executive committee member of the NSW branch (2003-6), Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, American Society for Microbiology, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, American Society for Pharmacognosy. Professional and Governmental Activities. member of Dept Environment and Heritage’s Biodiscovery Industry Panel, Nagoya Protocol, NATA Accreditor, advisor to the UPNG Biotechnology program, director on Israel Institute for Technology (Technion) Board for Environmental Studies, consultant to California EPA, consultant to the US-Centres for Disease Control, member of AusBiotech Food, Agriculture, Industry and Environment Committee, member of the Australia Academy of Science National Committee for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation.

Editorial Boards. Toxicon (2006, commendation in 2009 having achieved 100 assignments), Marine Drugs (2007), World Journal of Biological Chemistry (2009), Frontiers in Microbiology (2010), PLoS One (2011), Current Opinion in Chemical Biology (2011), Journal of Applied Phycology (2012).


Eureka Prizes for Scientific Research, Multidisciplinary Research and Environmental Science (2001, 2005, 2010, respectively), Walter Burfitt Prize (NSW Royal Society), the Australian Academy of Science Fenner Medal for studies in the Biological Sciences, Khwarizmi International Fundamental Research Laureate, Australian Society for Microbiology Frank Fenner Research Award and the NSW Scientist of the year. Adjunct professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences

Not located on UNSW campus
University of Newcastle