Belinda Ferrari

Associate Professor


I am an ARC Future Fellow, Deputy Head of School and Director of Research in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. I am an Environmental Microbiologist, specialising in Antarctic Science and my research has two streams; it is both discovery-based and of an applied nature. I strive to integrate innovative cultivation methods with high throughput sequencing to the uncover the diversity and functional capacity of soil microbiomes. By doing so, my team recently discovered the capacity for bacteria to literally ‘live on air’. We coined this novel carbon fixation process as ‘atmospheric chemosynthesis’ which was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature. My future goals are to continue to challenge our understanding of the nutritional limits required for life, while training the next generation of confident scientists.

My Research Goals

  • To understand the global significance of atmospheric chemosynthesis;
  • To develop novel cultivation approaches for microbial dark matter; particularly those capable of atmospheric chemosynthesis
  • Uncover the microbial diversity and functioning of soil microbes living in Antarctica;
  • Develop microbial focused ecotoxicity tests and apply them to contaminated soils, with the aim of developing remediation targets for contaminants;
  • To isolate and characterise cold-adapted hydrocarbon degrading fungi and bacteria.

My Research in Detail

Please see for more details including information on our recent Antarctic Expedition.


I have built up strong partnerships across both the Biotechnology industry and government bodies in Australia. My research has real-world applications, driving remediation targets, guideline derivation and conservation efforts in Antarctica.

In Antarctic soils, microbes are the most dominant lifeform and they drive geochemical processes, particularly carbon and nitrogen cycling. My research is aimed at unravelling the breadth of microbial diversity and their functioning in soil. My team focuses on microbial dark matter, that is bacteria, archaea and fungi that are yet-to-be cultured or characterised. By integrating single-cell with high throughput sequencing technologies and multivariate analyses, my group is exploring the ecology of microbes in both pristine and contaminated soils.

My focus is currently Polar Science, and through collaboration with the Australian Antarctic Division, we are using molecular tools to evaluate soil health in response to both natural and man-made disturbances, such as hydrocarbon contamination through to climate induced change. On the discovery side, my research is world-class, as we recently discovered that in terrestrial Antarctica bacteria are surviving by literally living on air. This finding published in the journal Nature is now challenging our understanding of the nutritional limits required to support life and opens the possibility for life elsewhere.   The question that remains is how widespread this new process, we coined ‘atmospheric chemosynthesis’ is in Antarctica and other oligotrophic habitats globally.


  • Uncovering the diversity of novel secondary metabolites in polar soils - Nicole Benaud, PhD; Submitted
  • Residual toxicity and bioremediation of soils at Casey station, Antarctica - Sarita Pudasaini, PhD; Submitted
  • Isolation and characterisation of Candidatus Dormibacteraeota (AD3) in Antarctic soil- Kate Montgomery, PhD
  • Understanding drivers of the nitrogen cycle in pristine and hydrocarbon contaminated polar soils - Sally Crane, PhD
  • Microbial diversity and drivers of community assembly across east Antarctica - Eden Zhang, PhD
  • Mapping the global significance of atmospheric chemosynthesis - Angelique Ray, PhD
  • Microbial community shifts after a decade of change in the Windmill Islands, east Antarctica - Sin Yin Wong, PhD
  • Microbial bioactives and elucidating their role in Antarctica - Carolina Gutiérrez-Chávez, PhD
  • Cultivation and characterisation of ammonia oxidising Archaea from Antarctic Enrichments – Devan Chelliah, Honours
  • Isolating novel hydrocarbon degrading bacteria from highly contaminated soils - Alistair Campbell, Honours

Professional affiliations and service positions

  • Deputy Head of School and Director of Research
  • Australian Microbiome Scientific Co-ordination Working Group
  • Member of the UNSW Sydney’s Women in Research Network and the Network of Academic Women in BABS.
  • Faculty of Science Board member, UNSW Sydney
  • UNSW; University Promotions Committee (A/Prof) and Senior Lecturer Promotion committee 2018-2020
  • Panellist for The Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund; 2017-2019
  • Academy of Sciences National Committee for Antarctic Research 2012-2016.




  • Faculty of Science Staff Excellence Award for Research Excellence; 2018
  • The only researcher at UNSW recognized in the ARC 2017-18 edition of “making a difference- Outcomes of ARC supported research’
  • ARC Future Fellowship; 2017
  • Outstanding Supervisor Award at UNSW Sydney; 2015.
  • Dean's Carers Fellowship, UNSW Sydney; 2014