Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald

BSc Qld., BSc Hons Qld., PhD Qld.

  • Lead, Science
  • Associate Professor, Molecular Engineering
  • Assistant Professor in Clinical Medical Sciences (Columbia University, NY USA)
+61 7 5456 5944
Office location
Sunshine Coast
Joanne Macdonald

Dr Joanne 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.

Read about and contribute to Dr Joanne MacDonald and her team's life-changing tropical diseases research.

Dr Macdonald also has a strong industry focus to translate research ideas into products. She co-invented an anti-cocaine therapeutic enzyme that has completed Phase II 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 Associate Professor, Molecular Engineering at USC (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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Patents and products

Year Description
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
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
2008 Thermostabilization of proteinsPatent 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
2007 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

Professional memberships

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

Potential research projects for HDR and Honours students


Development of rapid point-of-care diagnostics for mosquito pathogensDiseases 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 qualityMeasuring 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 diagnosticsCurrent 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 engineeringSpider 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 roadwaysTransportation 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

Year Project Name Funding Body Investigators Administering Institution Amount


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

USC 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

USC $49,969
2012-2016 Molecular Engineering for Advancing viral diagnostics Queensland Government Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Dr Macdonald USC $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 USC $50,000
2012-2014 Molecular engineering and characterization of Spider silks USC University Research Grant

Dr Macdonald, Dr Killen, Dr Brown 

USC $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

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

Teaching areas

  • Molecular biology
  • Biotechnology
  • Microbiology
  • Engineering
  • Genetics

Program coordinator

Recent or key publications

  1. Rames, E. and Macdonald, J. (2018) Evaluation of MinION nanopore sequencing for rapid enterovirus genotyping. Virus Res. 252:8-12.
  2. James,* A. S., Todd, S., Pollak, N.M., Marsh, G.A, and Macdonald,* J. (2018) Ebolavirus diagnosis made simple, comparable and faster than molecular detection methods: preparing for the future. Virology Journal 15:75.
  3. Katz,* F. S., Pecic,* S., Schneider, L., Zhu, Z., Hastings, A., Luzac, M., Macdonald, J., Landry, D. W., and Stojanovic, M. N. (2018) New therapeutic approaches and novel alternatives for organophosphate toxicity. Toxicology Letters 291:1-10.
  4. Kerr, G. G., Nahrung, H., Wiegand, A., Kristoffersen, J., Killen, P., Brown, C., and Macdonald, J.* (2018). Mechanical properties of silk of the Australian Golden Orb Weavers Nephila pilipes and N. plumipes. Biology Open 2018 7(2). pii: bio029249. doi: 10.1242/bio.029249.
  5. Vijayakumar, P., Macdonald, J.* (2017) A DNA Logic Gate Automaton for detection of Rabies and other Lyssaviruses. ChemPhysChem 18:1735-1741.
  6. Rames, E., Rioko, A., Stratton, H., Macdonald, J. (2016) Technical aspects of human adenovirus concentration and detection in wastewater. Water research 96:308-326.
  7. Li, J., Macdonald, J., (2016) Multiplexed lateral flow biosensors: technological advances for radically improving point-of-care diagnoses. Biosensors and Bioelectronics 83:177-192.
  8. J. Li & J. Macdonald (2015) Multiplex lateral flow detection and binary encoding enables a molecular colorimetric 7-segment display. Lab on a Chip. Accepted for publication. DOI: 10.1039/c5lc01323b.
  9. S.A. James & J. Macdonald (2015) Recombinase polymerase amplification: emergence as a critical molecular technology for rapid, low resource diagnostics. Expert review of Molecular Diagnostics 15:1475-1489.
  10. FS Katz, S Pecic, TH Tran, I Trakht, L Schneider, Z Zhu, L Ton-That, M Luzac, V Zlatanic, S Damera, J Macdonald, DW Landry, L Tong, MN Stojanovic (2015) Discovery of new classes of compounds that reactivate acetylcholinesterase inhibited by organophosphates. ChemBioChem 16: 2205-2215.
  11. J. Li, F. Rossignol, and J. Macdonald (2015) Inkjet printing for biosensor fabrication: combining chemistry and technology for advanced manufacturing. Lab on a Chip. 15: 2538-2558.
  12. Li J. and Macdonald J. (2014) Advances in isothermal amplification: novel strategies inspired by biological processes. Biosensors and Bioelectronics 64:196-211.
  13. Poje, J.E., Kastratovic, T., Macdonald, A.R., Guillermo, A.C., Troetti, S.E., Jabado, O.J., Fanning, M.L., Stefanovic, D., and Macdonald, J. (2014) Visual displays that directly interface and provide read-outs of molecular states via molecular graphics processing units. Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 53 (35):9222-9225.
  14. Gao D, Narasimhan DL, Macdonald J, Brim R, Ko MC, Landry DW, Woods JH, Sunahara R, Zhan CG. (2009) Thermostable Variants of Cocaine Esterase for Long-Time Protection against Cocaine Toxicity. Molecular Pharmacology 75(2):318-23.
  15. Macdonald J., Stefanovic D., Stojanovic M.N. (2008) DNA computers for work and play. Scientific American November:84–91.
  16. Macdonald J., Li Y., Sutovic M., Lederman H., Pendri K., Lu W., Andrews B.L., Stefanovic D., and Stojanovic M.N. (2006) Medium Scale Integration of Molecular Logic Gates in an Automaton. Nano Letters, 6 (11), 2598 -2603.

Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald's area of expertise includes molecular, engineering, clinical, medical, science. Associate Professor Macdonald is also the Program Coordinator, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Science (Hons) Deans Scholars

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