Group members

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A/Prof Anwar Sunna

Anwar obtained a PhD in Technical Microbiology from the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), Germany. His early training was in technical microbiology and enzymology. His previous work focused on modular thermophilic enzymes and the specificity and significance of their accompanying non-catalytic modules. He was one of the first people to use a combination of degenerate oligonucleotide PCR and genomic walking PCR to isolate genes directly from environmental DNA samples. This new approach avoided the problem arising from the need to grow microorganisms, which may or may not be readily culturable.

In the last years his research has been motivated by the desire to advance the understanding of the interaction between biomolecules and inorganic compounds. In particular in the area of biomolecule immobilisation and bio-conjugation. His research team has characterised successfully new synthetic peptide linkers (referred as Solid-Binding Peptides, SBPs) with unique binding affinities and specificities for inorganic silica-based materials. These SBPs have found applications in several areas including protein immobilisation, direct bio-conjugation and functionalisation of silica-coated magnetic and upconversion particles. A further development of this technology has resulted in the introduction of SBPs into more than 30 industrially-relevant enzymes. The fused SBP mediates the facile and specific immobilisation of these enzymes onto the inorganic matrix allowing for the enzymes to be recovered from solution and reused. This characteristic has immense potential in the field of protein (enzyme) design and cell-free synthetic biology allowing the performance of complicated biochemical reactions by the in-vitro assembly of enzymes into unique cell-free biocatalytic modules. Currently, we are exploiting this technology for the construction of natural and non-natural simplified enzymatic degradative pathways for the valorisation of organic waste through cell-free synthetic biology.

publications: google scholar list

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PhD candidate Alexander Gissibl

Alexander graduated from the University of Freiburg, Germany, in 2014 with a Master’s degree in biology. His studies focused on molecular biology, anaerobic microbiology, biochemistry and enzymology. In 2015, he started a PhD project in the Sunna group as part of the ARC Training Centre for Molecular Technology in the Food Industry. Application-driven research always has been his special interest, fitting the group’s profile and expertise perfectly. Currently, he is working on the valorisation of Euglena gracilis, a mixotrophic protist, and its storage polysaccharide, paramylon. To balance his research activities, he likes to go swimming, snorkelling and sport shooting, as well as to participate in social events.

publications: pubmed

Kerstin_roundPhD candidate Kerstin Petroll

Kerstin is a postgraduate student from Germany and joined the Sunna group in 2015 where she now works in synthetic biotechnology. Kerstin obtained her Masters/Diploma degree in Food Chemistry at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany, where she worked on the influence of heavy metal ions on human insulin signalling. After graduation she went to the University of Freiburg, Germany, where she applied MS-based proteomics to investigate epigenetic causes of prostate cancer. Moving away from medical biology to biotechnology, she now is interested in the sustainable production of bio-based commodities. As part of her PhD she is assembling a cell-free synthetic pathway to produce platform chemicals from renewable low-value compounds. When not being in the lab she enjoys riding waves and ascending rocks.

publications: google scholar


PhD candidate Vinoth Kumar

Vinoth did his Master’s degree in Microbiology at Bharathidsan University, India. Later he worked on various projects as research fellow on developing nanoparticle-based rapid diagnostic methods for detection of bacterial pathogens. He has published six peer-reviewed articles on diagnostic kit development. Vinoth joined the Sunna group to work on rapid pathogen detection using super-sensitive multiplexing nanophotonic probes. He is working on developing a handheld device for rapid and real time molecular detection of pathogens for point-of-care applications.

publications: google scholar


PhD candidate Dominik Kopp

Dominik did his Master’s degree in Biology at the University of Freiburg, Germany where he worked on small RNAs which regulate photosynthesis in Cyanobacteria. He continued his work on industrially-relevant microorganisms, constructing genetic libraries for high throughput screening at a biotech start up company in Basel, Switzerland. Dominik joined the Sunna group to work on the biosynthesis of precursors for polymers by using a variety of immobilised enzymes from different thermophiles. Spent coffee grounds, a mainly unused waste product rich in polysaccharides are being used as a renewable biomass source for the pathway. When Dominik is not in the lab, he is probably on his mountain bike, surfing or taking pictures.

publications: researchgate


PhD candidate Dennis Díaz

Dennis received her Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Microbiology and her Master’s of Biological Science from the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota, Colombia. She worked on the expression of human recombinant lysosomal proteins in Pichia pastoris and Escherichia coli, modelling the production of heterologous proteins considering fermenter restrictions and the production of recombinant cellulases in native yeasts for the degradation of lignocellulosic biomass. She joined the Sunna Group to work under the co-supervision of Dr Andrew Care on the expression of self-assemble protein nanocages for nanobiotechnological applications. In her leisure time Dennis enjoys working out and watching movies.


PhD candidate Rachit Bansal

Rachit has a Master’s in Nanotechnology from VIT University, Vellore, India, where he worked on the synthesis and properties evaluation of different conducting, insulating, semiconducting and superconducting oxides. Later he worked at the National University of Singapore in the area of Biochemistry exploring the cross-link efficiency of siderophores (especially enterobactin) in order to design non-leachable anti-fungal wound dressings. Rachit joined the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) in late 2016 under the supervision of A/Prof Sunna and Dr Andrew Care. His project is aimed at understanding the binding mechanism of a unique solid-binding peptide displaying binding affinity to a diverse range of silica-based materials. When he is not in the lab, Rachit enjoy watching cricket and science fiction movies, hanging out with friends and since he is a fitness freak, you can find him in the gym.

Associated members

Peter CV copyEmeritus Professor Peter L. Bergquist

Em Prof Bergquist is one of the pioneers of cloning and expressing genes from extremely thermophilic organisms and other extremophiles and has published on the diversity of culturable and unculturable thermophilic bacteria. His particular expertise is in gene cloning and expression, protein-nucleic acid interactions, the polymerase chain reaction and enzyme evolution. He was one of the first persons to clone and express genes from extreme thermophiles in bacteria and yeast. Peter’s interest in microbial biodiversity was initiated in 1990 with a then novel proposal to clone genes from unculturable micro-organisms as part of a successful bid to the Public Good Science Fund (NZ). This approach resulted from research with Thermus that had shown the influence of culture techniques on the bacteria that could be cultivated from extreme environments. He developed the genomic walking PCR technique to allow the isolation of genes from culturable and unculturable microorganisms without the necessity of constructing gene libraries. His work on the multi-domain “megazymes” with bifunctional catalytic activities from anaerobic extreme thermophiles has developed into a study of the specificity of the accompanying non-catalytic domains and their role in substrate binding. He has developed a novel method for enzyme evolution that is conceptually different from others in the field.

Peter is an international authority on cloning and high level expression of genes coding for enzymes useful to industry and he has a strong record of working with industry partners in Australia and overseas.  His current interests relate to directed evolution for the improved performance of thermophilic enzymes and the development of novel metabolic pathways using synthetic biology approaches, largely for biofuels and their precursors.

publications: google scholar

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Dr Andrew Care – Associate Investigator

Andrew was awarded a PhD from Macquarie University in 2015, under the supervision of A/Prof Anwar Sunna. His PhD research focused on the application of genetically-engineered peptides to control the self-assembly and biofunctionalisation of nanomaterials and biomolecules. This work yielded an innovative bioconjugation technology for the simple and rapid biofunctionalisation of nanoparticles for cell capture, detection and imaging; and a novel rapid method to attach multiple lanthanides to biomolecules to impart luminescence for time-resolved bioimaging. At present, Andrew is a Research Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), a transdisciplinary research centre that aims to develop innovative nanotechnologies to investigate complex living systems. His current research interests include the design and development of new delivery platforms for biomedical purposes. During his free time Andrew enjoys practising cricket and bass guitar.

publications: google scholar

Sameera_IqbalPhD candidate Sameera Iqbal

Sameera completed a Bachelor of Biochemistry and Biotechnology from North South University in Dhaka Bangladesh in the year 2012. Then she undertook a Master of Research degree in Chemistry and Biomolecular Science at Macquarie University, gaining expertise in the field of stem cell research, its clinical role in osteoarthritis and in nanoparticle labeling. In the 2015, Sameera joined the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) under the supervision of A/Prof Sunna and Prof Nicki Packer with the aim of finding a selective bioactive-peptide that will bind to Polysialic Acid, an unusual carbohydrate present in human brains. This novel peptide will be of use in imaging in the brain and is expected to help elucidate various functions in the brain and the mechanisms of neurodiseases. Her PhD is entitled, “Imaging Polysialic Acid Using Selective Bioactive-Peptides.” Outside the lab, Sameera enjoys relaxing outdoors with family and friends, sightseeing and music. She also spends her spare time baking, and painting landscape and still-life art.