Dr Brendan Burns

Position: 
Senior Lecturer
Room: 
4101, L4 West, Bioscience South E26
Telephone: 
(+612) 9385 3659
Fax: 
(+612) 9385 1483

 
Dr Burns is currently the BABS Honours Coordinator

Professional Experience

  • 2008-current: Senior Lecturer
  • 2006-2010 ARC Research Fellow, School of BABS
  • 2005: Lecturer, School of BABS
  • 2005: Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, School of Life & Environmental Science, Uni of Tsukuba
  • 2002-2004: ARC Fellow, School of BABS
  • 2000-2001: Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, Max von Pettenkofer Institute for Hygiene and Medical Microbiology, Ludwigs Maximilians University, Munich
  • 1999-2000: Postdoctoral Researcher, UNSW School of Microbiology and Immunology
  • 1995-1999: Doctoral Student, UNSW School of Microbiology and Immunology
  • 1992-1994: Research Assistant, UNSW School of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

Research Contribution

Dr Burns has expertise in the study of stromatolite communities. Of particular significance, Dr Burns conducted the first polyphasic study of modern stromatolite communities identifying a range of metabolically diverse organisms. These included a range of cyanobacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, and archaea. This is the first time such a diversity of archaea associated with marine stromatolites has been shown. Several sequences identified are also unique phylotypes with no close relatives in the database, and these may possess novel physiologies vital to the persistent morphogenesis of these living fossils. Characterising the microbial diversity of these stromatolites provided an excellent framework for exploring functional characteristics of these systems to logically advance the research. This is the next rational step in the comprehensive investigation of these ancient ecosystems.

Using this excellent base, Dr Burns has isolated several new archaeal species from this environment that possess unique characteristics, including novel osmolyte patterns suggestive of innovative salt tolerance mechanisms. This has the potential for providing results of national significance in relation to Australia's growing salinity and drought problems. Dr Burns' group has conducted lipid analyses of these communities, which will provide vital information for comparisons with fossilised stromatolites and more rational interpretations of the fossil record.

Dr Burns has also demonstrated for the first time the genetic potential of these systems to produce novel bioactive compounds, including the identification of a putative anti-cancer agent. Most recently Dr Burns and collaborators identified quorum-sensing molecules in stromatolite archaea, potentially the first evidence of this in this domain of life. Dr Burns' findings have also provided information vital to the conservation of these unique resources, monitoring carefully changes in biological diversity that could indicate possible threats to stromatolite systems.

Most significantly, Dr Burns has demonstrated the importance of an integrated approach to the study of a functionally diverse biological system. The long-term goal is to build on this research and extend these kinds of functional complexity studies to other evolutionally significant environments.

Honours & Awards

  • Young Scientist Award (European Helicobacter pylori Study Group; 1997,1998,1999, 2000)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (2000)
  • ASM Research Trust Fellowship (2001)
  • Kanagawa Museum of Natural History Award (2003)
  • Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Invitation Fellowship (2004)
  • NSW Australian Society for Microbiology Members Review Award (2004)
  • Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Scientific Research (2005)
  • Australian Institute of Political Science Tall Poppy Award (2005)
  • Visiting appointment: Associate Professor at the University of Tsukuba, Japan.

Active Research Projects

Publications