Dr Joanne Macdonald

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Dr Joanne Macdonald


Teaching areas

  • Molecular biology
  • Biotechnology
  • Microbiology
  • Engineering

Research areas

  • Molecular engineering
  • Molecular computing and automata
  • Diagnostic technology
  • Virology and epidemiology
  • Biochemistry and drug development
  • Materials science and engineering
  • Biomedical and Health science
  • Water and environment


Dr. Macdonald’s research applies molecular engineering principles to provide novel solutions for industry and consumers. She previously co-developed a computer from DNA molecules that can play tic-tac-toe interactively against a human opponent, and is now developing biosensors that can display text without requiring electricity, because the molecules themselves power the device. With a background in virology, she is applying her biosensor technology for the diagnosis of deadly pathogens, including Hendra and Ebola virus, as well as mosquito transmitted pathogens such as Malaria, Dengue virus, and Chikungunya viruses, and water pathogens such as Adenovirus.

Dr Macdonald also has a strong industry focus to translate research ideas into products. She co-invented an anti-cocaine therapeutic enzyme that is now in Phase III clinical trials for treatment of cocaine overdose. Other current projects include the development of antidotes for the treatment of nerve agents and pesticide poisoning, and the investigation of the structure and strength of spider silk as an advanced material.

Dr. Macdonald is jointly appointed as a Senior Lecturer, Molecular Engineering at the University of the Sunshine Coast (QLD, Australia) and Assistant Professor in Clinical Medical Sciences at Columbia University (NY, USA). She previously worked at Columbia University in the Division of Experimental Therapeutics (Department of Medicine, School of Physicians and Surgeons; 2004 – 2011) and the Center for Infection and Immunity (Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health; 2002-2004). She obtained her PhD from the University of Queensland in 2003.

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Professional memberships

  • Australian Society for Microbiology (ASM)
  • Australian Society for Microbiology and Biochemistry (ASBMB)
  • International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID)
  • Australian Nanotechnology Network (ANN)

Patents and products

2015 “Multiplex Lateral Flow Devices and Assays” provisional application filed. Authors: J. Macdonald and J. Li
2014 “Breakthrough therapy designation” granted by USA Federal Drug Administration for anti-cocaine treatment RBP-8000 (& initiation of Phase III clinical trials)
2009 Medium Scale integration of Molecular Logic gates in an automaton Patent number: US 8119782 B2; Filed on Jan 12, 2009; Granted on Feb 21, 2012 Authors: J Macdonald, MN Stojanovic, D Stefanovic

Thermostabilization of proteins

Patent number:

  • US 8637009 B2; Filed on July 10, 2008; Granted on January 28, 2014
  • Europe: EP 2170373 B1, Granted July 2, 2014
  • Australia: AU 2008/275025 B2, Granted Jun 5, 2014
  • Spain: ES 2510551 T3, Granted Oct 21, 2014
  • Hong Kong: HK 1143309 A1, Granted Jun 19 2015
  • Authors: DW Landry, JH Woods, RK Sunahara, DL Narasimhan, J Macdonald, MN Stojanovic, JJ Tesmer, RL Brim

Anti-Cocaine Compositions and Treatment -

Patent number:

  • US 8318156 B2; Filed on July 10, 2007; Granted on Nov 27, 2012
  • South Africa: ZA 200900197 A, Granted October 27, 2010
  • China: CN 101583374, Granted Jun 12 2013
  • Australia: AU 2007/272955 B2, Granted Dec 19, 2013
  • Authors: DW Landry, J Macdonald, SX Deng, CG Zhan, D Gao, JH Woods, RK Sunahara, DL Narasimhan, V Yang, MCH Ko, JJ Tesmer, TY Lee, YM Kwon

Potential research projects for HDR and Honours students


Development of rapid point-of-care diagnostics for mosquito pathogens

Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other vectors contribute to 17% of global burden of infectious diseases. Globally important mosquito pathogens include Malaria, Dengue virus, Chickungya virus, West Nile virus, and Yellow Fever virus. Australia has additional unique viruses to contend with, including Ross River, Barmah Forest, and Murray Valley encephalitis viruses. Projects are available to create rapid diagnostics for mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Start Date: Semester 1, 2016 or Semester 2, 2016

Development and testing of rapid point-of-care diagnostics for improved water quality

Measuring water quality is critical for safe use of water in drinking, recycling or simply post-use release into waterways. Projects are available to apply rapid diagnostic protocols to pathogen detection in water, and test these protocols in conjunction with local utilities and the Smart Water Research Centre at Griffith University.

Start Date: Semester 1, 2016 or Semester 2, 2016

Improved rapid point-of-care diagnostics

Current limitations in rapid point-of-care diagnostics prevent sensitive analysis of multiple types of specimens. This project involves research into state-of-the art biosensor development and application to detection of viral pathogens.

Start Date: Semester 1, 2016 or Semester 2, 2016

Advanced spider silk analysis and engineering

Spider silk is one of the toughest materials in the world – tougher than man-made materials such as Kevlar and Steel. Projects are available to study the strength of silk materials from Australian sources, analyse the molecular construction of natural silk, and create synthetic silks with advanced properties.

Start Date: Semester 1, 2016 or Semester 2, 2016

Greener roadways

Transportation is a major source of greenhouse emissions, contributing more than 20% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Projects are available to study the use of additives in asphalt that reduce and absorb pollutants and provide alternative energy sources to reduce reliance on greenhouse emissions.

Start Date: Semester 1, 2016 or Semester 2, 2016

Research grants

YearProject NameFunding BodyInvestigatorsAdministering InstitutionAmount


A Rapid Field Test for Detecting Infected Mosquitoes Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Grand Challenges Explorations

Dr Macdonald

Dr Van-den Hurk

Dr Johansen

Dr Hugo

Dr Hall

Dr Jones

University of the Sunshine Coast USD $100,000
2015-2016 A single rapid kit for detection of Ross River, Barmah Forest and other arboviruses in mosquitoes Funding Initiatives for mosquito management in Western Australia (FIMMWA)

Dr Macdonald

Dr Johansen

Dr Hobson-Peters

University of the Sunshine Coast $49,969
2012-2016 Molecular Engineering for Advancing viral diagnostics Queensland Government Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Dr Macdonald University of the Sunshine Coast $720,000
2012-2014 The validation of treatment ponds/lagoons in order to facilitate safe and economical water recycling Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence

Dr Stratton

Prof Lemckert

Dr Roiko

Dr Zhang

Dr Wilson

Prof Gibb

Dr Padovan

Dr Keegan

Dr van der Akker

Dr Leusch

Dr Macdonald

Smart Water, Griffith University $600,000
2014 Regional nuclear magnetic resonance infrastructure network for South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales Australian Research Council: LIEF

Dr Quinn

Dr Grkovic

Dr Wilson

Prof von Itzstein

Dr Wellard

Dr Mullen

Prof Bottle

Prof Zhu

Prof Nelson

Dr Greatrex

Dr Keddie Assoc. Prof. Wilson

Dr Cummins Dr Mounsey

Dr Macdonald Dr McMillan Dr Benkendorff Prof King

Prof Bush

Griffith University $2 million
2013-2014 Future Technologies in Molecular Engineering Defence Science and Technology Organisation Dr Macdonald University of the Sunshine Coast $50,000
2012-2014 Molecular engineering and characterization of Spider silks USC University Research Grant

Dr Macdonald Dr Killen

Dr Brown 

University of the Sunshine Coast $16,065
2011-2014 Allosteric effectors of cholinesterase as pre-treatments for nerve agent exposure USA Department of Defense/ Defense Threat Reduction Agency Dr Macdonald Dr Landry  Columbia University (New York, USA) USD $1.26 mil
2008-2012 Research Experiences for Undergraduates and High school students USA National Science Foundation: Grant Supplements Dr Macdonald Columbia University (New York, USA) USD $64,000
2008-2012 EMT/MISC: Making Molecular Computation Practical for Biodetection Applications USA National Science Foundation: Emerging Models & Technologies Dr Macdonald Dr Stefanovic  Columbia University (New York, USA) USD $548,000
2009-2011 Biological stability of CocE Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc. Dr Macdonald Columbia University (New York, USA) USD $164,050
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