Environmental and Microbial Genomics

Our research focuses on the discovery, evolution and interplay of living and ancient organisms across all domains of life - archaea, bacteria and eukaryotes.

We study diverse environments ranging from aquatic and terrestrial biomes to the human body. Our group’s research encompasses three main areas of interest: 

  1. ancient DNA studies seeking to understand through time ecosystem changes, dynamics and functions of ecological communities inhabiting the deep seafloor to high-altitude extreme environments,
  2. investigating the microbial ecology and evolution of native Australian animals for their improved conservation, and
  3. examining the diverse microbiomes of the human body to develop better strategies for disease prevention and treatment.

For this highly multidisciplinary research, we apply state-of-the-art high-throughput DNA sequencing and bioinformatic techniques, while also advancing computational tools to analyse our large and complex datasets. For a glimpse into our diverse research programs, please see our individual projects below, with study options available.  

Dr Jamie Wood

Using ancient environmental genomics to reveal past biodiversity and ecological interactions. 

Jamie’s research focusses on understanding changes in the composition and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems over the past 50,000 years. His specific research interests include climate and environmental change, ecological impacts associated with human settlement, diet and ecology of threatened and extinct animal species, ecological consequences of lost or broken interactions between species, and conservation palaeoecology.

One of his key research contributions has been through developing the use of ancient DNA from coprolites (ancient dung) to study the diet and ecology of extinct and threatened animal species. Current projects include the use of aDNA in cave sediments to reconstruct prehistoric plant and animal communities, and using parasite DNA from coprolites to explore the spatio-temporal dynamics of the co-extinction process.

Contact Jamie

Dr Vilma Perez-Godoy

Evolutionary history of microbial adaptations to extreme environments

Vilma is visiting ACAD on a Chilean Postdoctoral Fellowship to further her work on the diversity and survival strategies of microbial communities in very extreme environments using both modern and ancient DNA approaches.  By examining past microbial adaptation mechanisms to environmental factors, using ancient Chilean hydrothermal soil samples, she will benchmark ancient environmental microbiome studies.  Samples are taken from primitive sites so extreme (e.g. sulfur rich, high temperatures springs at 4000 metres above sea level with dangerous UV levels) that makes research difficult, but immensely rewarding. Due to a gap in this field, Vilma is developing laboratory protocols and analytical pipelines that will address some of the evolutionary history of microbes that exist in such extreme environments.   

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Dr Linda Armbrecht

Investigating marine organisms in sediments to reconstruct Antarctic ecosystems

Linda's research involves improving the understanding of modern and ancient marine organisms, from the smallest phytoplankton to zooplankton and fish, and their relationships with the environment. Linda's background in marine science is highly interdisciplinary, having trained extensively in sedimentary ancient DNA, marine genomics, micropaleontology, biological oceanography and phytoplankton taxonomy, with a particular passion for the Antarctic environment, ship work at high latitudes and exploring marine sediment records. Currently, she is applying ancient DNA techniques to investigate past harmful algal bloom dynamics off Tasmania, and to reconstruct Antarctic ecosystems using sediment cores from East and West Antarctica, which she collected during her participation in a number of recent Antarctic expeditions (IODP Exp. 382 - Iceberg Alley, Sabrina Seafloor Survey - IN2017_V01).  

Contact Linda

Photo courtesy Lee Stevens, IODP