Dr Susan Blackburn

Dr Susan Blackburn: passionate about microalgae

Dr Susan Blackburn is recognised internationally for her research and expertise in microalgal diversity, life cycles, ecophysiology, population dynamics, harmful algal blooms, culturing, and bioapplications.

  • 2 July 2010 | Updated 3 April 2012

Dr Susan Blackburn heads the Australian National Algae Culture Collection (ANACC) and leads associated research based at the Hobart laboratories of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (CMAR).

Her research is inspired by the largely untapped potential of Australia’s rich and unique microalgae resource.

Microalgae are critical to the health of marine and freshwater ecosystems, and to the planet in a time of increasing human impact including climate change. Controlled culture studies of microalgae and techniques developed by Dr Blackburn and her team are vital to ongoing research in this field.

Current activities

Dr Blackburn investigates the role of microalgae in aquatic ecosystems, (harmful algal bloom dynamics and interactions in the microbial food web), and the bioapplications of microalgae or their genes.

Potential bioproducts include biofuels, aquaculture feeds, medical applications, human foods and nutritional supplements.

Dr Blackburn has a leadership role in projects investigating:

  • Atlas of Living Australia and ANACC
  • microalgae for low cost algal fuels (Energy Transformed National Research Flagship)
  • heteotrophic microalgae for omega-3 oils and biofuels
  • development of adhesives from marine sources (Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship)
  • characterisation of microalgal diversity

Other recent projects include:

  • harmful algal bloom dynamics in Atlantic salmon and southern bluefin tuna growout areas (Aquafin Cooperative Research Centre)
  • omega-3 oils, gene discovery and single cell oils (Food Futures National Research Flagship)
  • molecular detection and regulation of harmful algal blooms (Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship)

Dr Blackburn is the President of the International Society for Applied Phycology (ISAP), Coordinator of the Network of Asia Oceania Algae Culture Collections (AOAC), and a member of the International Committee of Culture Collections of Algae (ICCCA).

Dr Blackburn investigates the role of microalgae in aquatic ecosystems and the development of bioproducts from microalgae or their genes.

She supervises doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows, and has been an Associate Editor of Phycologia, the journal of the International Phycological Society, for more than 10 years.

Australian National Algae Culture Collection (ANACC)

The Australian National Algae Culture Collection is a living bank of microalgae isolated from Australian waters from the tropics to Antarctica.

It is one of CSIRO's Australian National Biological Collections that address key issues including the rate of biodiversity decline, mitigating the impact of global change (including environmental degradation, climate change, invasive species and water salinity) on the Australian biota, responsible and sustainable use of Australia’s biodiversity, improved biosecurity (e.g. increased border protection against pests and diseases), and increased use of Australian biodiversity for biodiversity based industry.

Visit the ANACC website.

Background

Dr Blackburn’s early work on the global diversity and relationships of microalgal populations has had a strong influence on her approach to research challenges relating to microalgae.

She joined CSIRO as curator of the Australian National Algae Culture Collection (formerly, CSIRO Collection of Living Microalgae) in 1984 and soon began combining ecophysiological studies of cultured microalgae with field studies to understand the regulation of harmful algal blooms.

In more than 20 years of research, she has examined:

  • algal life history details
  • genetic and environmental regulation of algal toxicity
  • molecular characterisation and processes
  • trophic interactions
  • population genetics, particularly of harmful microalgae, both Australian and globally.

Key areas of research have included:

  • paralytic shellfish poisoning dinoflagellates from coastal waters off south-eastern Tasmania
  • genetic and environmental factors affecting the toxicity of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae)
  • algal bloom dynamics in the Huon Estuary, south-eastern Tasmania
  • microbial interactions and algal blooms.

In the late 1990s she broadened her research focus into the area of microalgae biotechnology. This evolved to a current focus on developing the potential of microalgae as a renewable source of biodiesel, other biofuels, and other applications.

Academic qualifications

Dr Blackburn’s academic qualifications gained through the University of Tasmania, Australia include a:

  • Bachelor of Science in botany and zoology
  • Bachelor of Science First Class Honours in limnology and phycology
  • Doctor of Philosophy in the biodiversity of global populations of microalgae.

Achievements

Dr Blackburn is recognised internationally for her expertise in the environmental roles and bioapplications of microalgae.

She has written more than 100 publications, including peer-reviewed manuscripts and invited book chapters and more than 150 conference presentations, and is an inventor on a number of patents.