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Joanne Macdonald

Associate Professor, Molecular Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast

Dr Macdonald is an academic researcher at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC, Queensland, Australia). Her research focuses on the rapid detection of infectious diseases as well as developing synthetic biology components that extend the capabilities of molecules beyond their natural function. For example, she previously co-developed a computer made entirely of DNA molecules, able to play the game tic-tac-toe interactively against a human opponent. This was extended into a rapid biosensing platform able to display a text diagnosis, without requiring electricity, because the molecules themselves power the device.

With a keen interest in microbiology, Dr. Macdonald has also developed technology to rapidly and sensitively detect pathogens directly from samples such as blood and tissue without needing sophisticated equipment, for use in low resource settings. This technology is now being applied to develop tests for viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Test kits have or are now being developed for significant pathogens such as Hendra, Ebola, Adenoviruses, Dengue and Malaria, as well as markers for antimicrobial resistance in bacteria. She co-founded a biotechnology company, BioCifer Pty. Ltd, in 2015 to begin commercial manufacturing of some of these disease testing kits. In 2016, she was awarded the Rose-Anne Kelso award for women by Life Sciences Queensland, for her outstanding contributions to life sciences and translational research. This year (2020) she was elected Chair of the Virology Special Interest Group in the Australian Society for Microbiology (ASM).

Dr. Macdonald obtained her PhD in Microbiology in 2003 from the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia), and subsequently moved to New York City where she became an Assistant Professor in Clinical Medical Sciences at Columbia University (New York, USA). During this time, she was introduced to DNA computing research, and also co-developed a cocaine antidote that was awarded breakthrough drug therapy by the FDA and is in clinical trials for the treatment of cocaine overdose. She also performed research towards developing antidotes to nerve agent and pesticide exposures. She has been based on the Sunshine Coast since 2012.


  • 2011–present
    Assistant Professor in Clinical Medical Sciences, Columbia University
  • 2016–present
    Associate professor, University of the Sunshine Coast
  • 2012–2016
    Senior lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast


  • 2003 
    University of Queensland, PhD