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Current Members

Associate Professor Alex Johnson – Principle investigatorAlex J staff photo 2020 cropped

• PhD – Virginia Tech (2001)
• MSc – Virginia Tech (1998)
• BA – Gustavus Adolphus College (1996)

I am a plant biologist with interests in nutrition and stress tolerance, my research group aims to produce more nutritious and higher yielding staple crops. I also teach into several undergraduate and postgraduate subjects at the University including first year biology (BIOL10008 & BIOL10009). I am on the board of the University of Melbourne Botany Foundation and serve as Associate Dean (International) in the Faculty of Science.

Ouda Khammy – Lab supervisorOuda2

• BSci(Hons) – The University of Melbourne (2009)
• BAppSci(Laboratory Medicine) – RMIT University (2008)

Behind the research scene there is me – the group’s laboratory supervisor. I manage most of the administrative, safety, compliance, and equipment aspects of Alex Johnson’s laboratory. Complementing my interests in lab management and applied science, I also work in the lab assisting the researchers. If there is anything you need to know or any resources you require, I am your best source of contact.

Jesse BeasleyJesse Beasley – PhD student

• BSc – Molecular Biotechnology (University of Melbourne, 2013)
• MSc – Biosciences (University of Melbourne, 2015)

Feeding the growing human population into the future will be an issue of both food quantity and quality. My primary interest is in exploring novel ways to tackle the issue of global food security using plant biotechnology. Biofortification is a cost effective and efficient strategy to enhance the nutritional quality of the world’s most important food crops. I am working on a PhD research project involving field and laboratory based analyses of iron biofortified bread wheat.

Ronan BroadRonan Broad – PhD student

• BSc – Biological Sciences (University of Canterbury, 2011)
• MSc – Biotechnology (University of Canterbury, 2014)
• CA – Philosophy (University of Canterbury, 2015)

I am working on a new direction to combat human iron (Fe) deficiency; the biofortification of staple crops with ascorbic acid (AsA), commonly known as vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is a strong enhancer of Fe bioavailability and is able to overcome inhibitors of Fe absorption in the human intestine. Most staple crops, however, have low AsA content. Increasing AsA concentrations in staple crops could therefore represent a low-cost and sustainable strategy for increasing human dietary intakes of bioavailable Fe. My PhD project focuses on the characterization of rice plants with increased levels of GDP-L-galactose phosphorylase, an enzyme which regulates the major rate limiting step in AsA biosynthesis in plants.

Oscar Fung – MSc studentOscar

• BSc – Genetics (Monash University, 2018)

I have a keen interest in genetics and particularly emerging biotechnological tools, such as genome editing.  These exciting new tools can not only aid researchers but also propel lab research into real-world application. My masters project uses reverse genetics to understand the role of a transcription factor involved in plant Fe homeostasis. My hope is that this research will contribute to our understanding of Fe-related crop nutrition.

Rucha Patil – MSc studentRucha2

• BSc (Blended) – BioSciences (Savitribai Phule Pune University, 2019)

Human iron deficiency is a major problem in countries where micronutrient-poor cereal products such as bread are consumed as staple foods. In my research project I am exploring the potential of yeast and bacterial co-cultures to improve iron bioavailability in sourdough bread. My project is a collaboration between Kate Howell’s lab in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Alex Johnson’s lab in the Faculty of Science.

Amy Liu – MSc studentAmy Liu photo for lab page

• BSc – Plant Science (University of Melbourne, 2019)

I am keen to develop more sustainable food production systems for the rapidly growing human population. I believe new biotechnological tools will be key drivers for the production of higher-yielding crops. My research project involves molecular and glasshouse characterization of genome-edited rice plants that may display enhanced abiotic stress tolerance and/or yield.


Olivia Lockyear – Science and Technology InternOlivia picture for lab page

• MSc Biology Combined Masters – (University of Sheffield, 2018 – current)

I am an exchange student from the University of Sheffield (UK) in my second year of study of a four year combined Masters program. I am interning in the Johnson lab in Semester 1, 2020, helping with postgraduate research projects and learning more about plant biotechnology in general.


Recent Alumni

• Marianne Weisser – PhD student, graduated 2020. Contact:

• Julien Bonneau – Postdoctoral researcher, 2013-2019. Contact:

• Martin O’Brien – Postdoctoral researcher, 2017-2019. Contact:

• Natasha Nyangoma – Graduate Diploma in Science (Advanced Botany), graduated 2019. Contact:

• Laura Moreno – Postdoctoral researcher, 2015-2017. Contact:

• Tonatiuh Sánchez-Palacios – Postdoctoral researcher, 2014-2016. Contact:

• Jamie Selby-Pham – PhD student, graduated 2016. Contact:

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