Professor Brett Neilan

Scientia Professor
344, Biological Sciences
(+612) 9385 3235
(+612) 9385 1483

Professional Experience

  • 2013-current: UNSW Scientia Professor (to 2018)
  • 2008-2012: ARC Federation Fellow
  • 2005-2012: ARC Professorial Fellow, School of BABS
  • 2000-2004: ARC Research Fellow, School of BABS
  • 1997-1999: ARC Postdoctoral Fellow, UNSW School of Microbiology and Immunology
  • 1996: Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellowship, Humboldt University, Berlin
  • 1995: NASA Planetary Biology Fellowship, Stanford University

Research Contribution

The Neilan research group at UNSW is considered to be one of the world's leaders in the genetics of toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). As its founding member, Brett has undertaken the research that has led to the discovery of all four biochemical pathways responsible for the production of potent bacterial and algal toxins that contaminate our water supplies and accumulate in seafood. The results of this basic research and other studies of the evolution of cyanobacteria have revolutionised an entire field of environmental biology.

Brett's current research encompasses two main areas: 1) the origins, evolution, diversity and unique physiologies of microbial life on Earth, especially in extreme ecosystems such as stromatolites, volcanoes, Antarctica, as well as in symbioses; and 2) non-ribosomal peptide, polyketide, and alkaloid biosynthesis in aquatic bacteria and algae as the basis for the production of toxins, traditional medicines and potential pharmaceuticals. Work on these projects involves the disciplines of microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry.

Brett has been recognised as an international expert and one of the top molecular biologists in the field. Achievement has been measured by numerous invited reviews, seminars and visiting appointments, including an Adjunct Professorship at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Nationally, the research has been awarded Australian Museum Eureka Prizes (2001, 2005, 2009), the Australian Academy of Science Fenner Medal in Biological Research (2004), the Walter Burfitt Prize (Royal Society of NSW, 2006), and a Federation Fellowship (Australian Research Council, 2008). Research has been continually funded by the ARC for many years and has involved the research training of in excess of 30 PhD students, and collaboration with colleagues in Germany, USA, Italy, Japan and Norway. More than 160 peer-reviewed publications have resulted from this research.

Honours & Awards

  • Fellow of the royal Society of NSW, 2015
  • Finalist in the Environment category in the 2010 and 2009 UNSW Inventor of the Year Awards.
  • NSW Scientist of the Year for Environment, Water and Climate Change Sciences, 2009
  • Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation, Australian Museum, 2009
  • Fenner Award for Research, Australian Society for Microbiology, 2008
  • Australian Academy of Science Korean Fellowship, 2006
  • Walter Burfitt Prize, NSW Royal Society, 2005
  • Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Science, Australian Museum, 2005
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellows, Berlin, 2004
  • Tall Poppy Science Award, Australian Institute for Political Science, 2004
  • Fenner Medal in Biology, Australian Academy of Science, 2004
  • Adjunct Professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Hydrobiology, 2002
  • Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, Australian Museum, 2001
  • Australian Society for Microbiology Research Trust Award, 1998
  • Kanagawa Museum of Natural History Award (Australian Academy of Sciences, 1998)

Active Research Projects


Click here for Professor Neilan's publications list