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
  • Deputy Director, Centre for Bioinnovation
+61 7 5456 5944
Office location
UniSC Sunshine Coast, Building I, Level 1, Room 14A (SD-I-1.14A)
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.

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 gained international recognition from Gates Open Research and was invited to speak to a blog for world mosquito day “Enhancing dengue virus surveillance and control with new rapid tests.” Joanne Macdonald, Nina Pollak and Madeeha Ahmed 17 August 2023*.

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  • Project Leadership Awards: DMTC 2023 Annual Conference, Canberra, ACT, 18 April 2023

The DMTC Ltd, which funded the research, said Joanne received the award because it was clear the value that stakeholders placed on her passion for research, her respect for her colleagues and her leading by example of a highly diligent research group

  • High commendation award: Health Security Systems Australia (a division of DMTC), in partnership with BioCifer Pty Ltd, CSIRO and academic partners of the University of the Sunshine Coast and The University of Queensland, Land Forces 2022 Innovation Awards, Brisbane, QLD, 4 October 2022
  • Rose Anne-Kelso Commemorative Award, Life Sciences Queensland, October 2016

Professional memberships

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

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

Potential research projects for HDR and Honours students

  • 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 genetic markers and pathogens.

Dates – ongoing

Teaching areas

  • Molecular biology
  • Biotechnology
  • Microbiology
  • Engineering
  • Genetics
  • WPL310 Workplace Learning I
  • WPL320 Workplace Learning II

Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald's area of expertise includes molecular engineering, synthetic biology and biotechnology, as well as medical, veterinary and agricultural diagnostics research. She is also the Science Discipline Lead in the School of Science, Technology and Engineering at UniSC.

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Study finds liquid rapidly inactivates coronavirus for faster and potentially life-saving testing
10 Oct 2023

A Queensland research collaboration has identified a simple way to safely kill coronavirus in patient diagnostic samples by using a unique preparation liquid – developed by UniSC – that has the potential to save lives by speeding up testing, leading to faster test results and faster treatment.

Rapid detection vital in deadly bat-borne virus outbreak
20 Sep 2023

A University of the Sunshine Coast researcher who has helped develop a simple dipstick test to screen for the highly infectious Nipah virus says rapid detection is critical to controlling deadly outbreaks.