Meet The Team


Toby Mills
Interests- Analytical chemistry and the search for novel bioactive molecules

What role do you play in the BlueGreen team- Lab manager and post doctoral researcher.

What you love the most about your job- Everyday is different, sometime thats a good thing and sometimes not so much but it always keeps things interesting

PhD Students

Carolin von Lupin

 Carolin graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biosciences and a Master’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Potsdam in Germany, where she also worked on the characterisation of bacteriophages and their tailspike proteins for several years as a part-time Research Assistant while completing her studies. Carolin visited Harvard University as an Undergraduate Research Fellow investigating the binding specificity of an E. coli lipopolysaccharide transporter protein as part of her Bachelor Thesis. She explored industrial research when working at Bayer Pharma AG for her Master Thesis project on the characterisation and evaluation of phenotypically selected antibodies for novel targeted tumour therapy. After that Carolin started her PhD candidature in Brett Neilan’s group on an UIPA scholarship at UNSW Sydney, where she is part of the current cohort of the Women in Maths and Science Champions Program. Carolin has expertise in a number of different techniques such as bacterial and mammalian cell culturing, molecular cloning, protein expression and purification, western blotting, enzyme activity and binding assays, ELISA, purification of bacterial carbohydrates, spectroscopy (UV/VIS, fluorescence, SPR) and mass spectrometry.

Carolin is currently a PhD student at UNSW Sydney  performing research for her thesis on the broader topic of natural products. Interested in how these bioactive compounds are synthesised in their native hosts and how we can use other microorganisms to make them more accessible, her attention is particularly drawn to the discovery and development of new antibacterial agents. Carolin’s PhD project is about the expression and characterisation of two novel lanthipeptides and their biosynthetic gene cluster from a marine bacterial strain. This includes performing in silico analyses of the biosynthetic gene cluster, develop extraction methods to isolate the lanthipeptides from cultures of the native as well as a heterologous host and analyse their biosynthesis by characterising the modification enzymes that are involved in the pathway.

Caitlin Romanis

Caitlin graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science with First Class Honours in Microbiology from the University of New South Wales. During her honours degree, Caitlin focused on the identification and isolation of a novel lanthipeptide through heterologous expression. Throughout her time in the Neilan lab Caitlin has developed an interest in the microbial diversity and ecology of niche environments and has since worked on identifying potentially novel bioactive metabolites from various niche environments including caves, stromatolites, and volcanic hot springs. This interest in microbiome analysis has lead to Caitlin becoming the primary bioinformatician  in the laboratory.

Caitlin is currently undertaking her PhD studies at the University of Newcastle in Biology (Microbial Ecology). Her work involves identifying the molecular triggers of cyanobacteria bloom development and characterising the factors pertaining to cyanobacterial recruitment from the benthos.

Alescia Cullen

Alescia Cullen is a molecular biologist/ biochemist who has experience in natural product biosynthesis and cloning of large geneclusters. She graduated from the University of New South Wales (2016) with a Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours, First Class) in Biotechnology. During her degree she interned with Prof. Torsten Thomas characterizing the antagonistic activity of marine sponge symbionts. She was also awarded a Vacation Scholarship to work at CSIRO (Waite Campus) with Dr Gupta Vadakttu on the screening of cereal crop endophytes for plant growth promoting abilities. Alescia wrote her honours thesis under the supervision of Prof. Brett A. Neilan investigating the enzymology behind the transformation of one paralytic shellfish toxin into another. She continued this work as a research scientist at the University of Newcastle under Prof. Neilan. Alescia is currently at PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle. Her research investigates the mechanisms driving cyanotoxin biosynthesis, modification and their possible biotechnological applications.

Joachim Steen Larsen

Joachim graduated from University of Copenhagen (Denmark) in 2017 with both Bsc. and Cand. Scient. degrees in Biology-Biotechnology with specialization in Applied Enzymology. My work has mainly revolved around specialized metabolites but has also included post-translational modifications, such as glycosylation of proteins.

At University of Newcastle (UoN), I’m working on specialized metabolites from cyanobacteria, aka. blue-green algae. One group of specialized metabolites are polyketides (PKs), which are being produced by an enzyme group called polyketide synthase (PKS). Deciphering the potential of cyanobacteria to produce PKs are of importance due to their antimicrobial and immunosuppressive properties. However, the potential of PK production in cyanobacteria have been understudied. Therefore, heterologous expression of genes encoding PKS are carried in different host organisms to study their product formation and the biosynthesis of different PKs. Another exciting aspect of my projects here at UoN is to study the physiological function of these PKs from cyanobacteria, because the main reason for the production of these metabolites has not been elucidated yet. This is done by applying a combination of transcriptomics and metabolomics on the native host.

By combining molecular biology with analytical chemistry, it is possible to decipher a biosynthetic pathway, using a heterologous host as expression organism. Having experience with both molecular biology and analytical chemistry from previously projects, I have the experience and knowledge to carry out such a research project, from the molecular biology part to the final analytical chemistry. On top of that comes the knowledge provided by the BGGM team, which is specialized in investigating specialized metabolites and the techniques needed.

Joao Pereyra
Interests –Expression and functional elucidation of cryptic genes.

What role do you play in the BlueGreen team- Chicken heart BBQ specialist. I also dabble in cloning and bioinformatics.

Career highlights- Trip to China to present at an international conference.

Research highlights- Working with Rabia Mazmouz 🙂

What you love the most about your job- That what we know about something can be challenged and improved. You don’t know what you’re going to find out tomorrow.

What is it like working with Brett- He’s formed a lab that is incredible to work with, where we’ve become like family.

Other great things you have done in life- I finally had the opportunity to attend a FIFA World Cup in 2014, and I’m currently a 2nd Dan Taekwondo black belt.

Jesse Cain

Jesse graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours, First Class). For his honours project he focused on the isolation and elucidation of bioactive molecules from traditional Chinese medicinal plants. This sparked an interest in natural product discovery, which is a direct focus of the Neilan lab. Jesse joined the lab as a PhD candidate where he specialises in the heterologous expression of secondary metabolite genes from both bacteria and fungi. His primary project concerns polyketide biosynthetic gene clusters from a novel endophytic fungus from a traditional Chinese medicinal plant. The most interesting aspect of this project is that it covers a variety of disciplines; including gene amplification and cloning, protein expression and purification, and the structure elucidation of natural products using nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry. In the future Jesse hopes to apply his skillset to a wider variety of microorganisms and natural products, for the discovery of novel bioactive molecules.

Neysa Mai

Interests- An understanding of Microbial community of leaves from Eucalyptus trees

What role do you play in the BlueGreen team– A PhD student

Career highlights- Non so far

Research highlights- Non so far

What you love the most about your job- Being a PhD student…hehehe

What is it like working with Brett- Great

Other great things you have done in life- nothing important