Dr Claudia Vickers


Dr Claudia Vickers
Senior Research Fellow/Smart Futures Fellow
Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
Building 75, Cnr Cooper and College Rds
The University of Queensland
St. Lucia, QLD, 4072

p: +61 7 334 63958
f: +61 7 334 63973
e: c.vickers@uq.edu.au


I am a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN). My areas of research include basic biology of isoprenoid compounds, industrial production of isoprenoids, carbohydrate metabolism in microbes, and genetic diversity in baobab trees. These diverse areas are linked though fundamental biology and industrial applications of natural compounds. In particular, I have an interest in using biology to replace current industrial practices (largely based on finite petrochemical resources) with sustainable, environmentally friendly approaches. To this end, I use the tools of systems and synthetic biology for metabolic engineering of organisms.

Metabolic engineering: the rational redesign of organisms to for production of specific industrially-useful compounds

Production of petrochemical replacements via microbial fermentation is more environmentally friendly, uses renewable feedstocks, and aims to be sustainable over the long term.

Isoprenoids Program

Isoprenoid compounds are a large and diverse group of natural products with many important biological functions. These functions include antioxidants (tocopherols, carotenoids, isoprene, monoterpenes), membrane stabilisers (sterols, hopanoids), carriers for electron transport (quinines, chlorophylls), plant hormones (gibberellins, abscisic acid), photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic pigments (chlorophylls, carotenoids, etc.), signalling molecules (volatile isoprenoids), vitamins (A, E and K), protein targeting and regulation components (prenyl side-chains), carbohydrate carriers (bactoprenol and dolichols), etc. This diversity of function means that many isoprenoids also have industrial and medical applications, including rubbers, pharmaceuticals, food colourings and additives, nutraceuticals, industrial chemicals, fuels and fuel additives, etc. For these reasons, the biological functions and biosynthesis of isoprenoids are of great interest. The Isoprenoid Program has several aims:
  • Understanding carbon flux and metabolic control of the isoprenoid biosynthetic pathways
  • Up-regulating carbon flux through isoprenoid pathways to achieve industrially-relevant production of isoprenoids in microbial systems
  • Production of industrially-useful isoprenoids, including isoprene (a synthetic rubber precursor) and higher-order isoprenoid compounds with aviation fuel properties (part of the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative )
More on the Industrial Isoprenoid Engineering Program here

Sucrose-to-Bioproducts Program

To develop bioprocesses for production of industrially-useful biochemicals, a carbon and energy source is required for microbial fermentations. Sucrose is attractive for this purpose for several reasons. It is abundant and is a primary agricultural industry in Australia. Unlike glucose from corn (the primary biofuel feedstock in other bioprocesses), use of sucrose for bioprocesses doesn’t directly compete with important protein sources for nutrition. Eighty per cent of Australia’s 4.5-5 million tonnes per annum sucrose crop is exported, and this represents a substantial carbon source that could be converted into value-added products. To capitalise on this possibility, the Sucrose to Bioproducts program is aimed towards developing a broader understanding of carbohydrate metabolism in microbes, in particular sucrose and glucose. More on the Sucrose-to-Bioproducts Program here

Biogenic Isoprene Emission

Isoprene is a volatile 5-carbon hydrocarbon emitted by many plant species. It is highly reactive, and is produced in such large quantities from the biosphere that it substantially affects the oxidising potential of the atmosphere. In addition, plants can loose relatively large amounts of carbon and energy during formation of isoprene. We assume that this loss is supported by a biological benefit. I am investigating the biological role of isoprene emission using both plants and model microbes. Tobacco, which does not normally synthesise isoprene, has been engineered to produce isoprene by introduction of an isoprene synthase gene. These plants produce high levels of isoprene and display typical emission responses as observed in normally-emitting plant species. Using these plants, along with azygous control plants, the biological role(s) of isoprene can be examined.

Kimberley Baobab Project

The Australian baobab tree, Adansomia gregorii), is found in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. Interestingly, the geographical distribution of the Kimberley species overlaps almost perfectly with a particular type of ancient rock art known as Bradshaw paintings. The aetiology of these painting is under hot debate: some maintain that they are part of the extensive Aboriginal rock art found across Australia, and some maintain that these images were painted by a distinct culture which no longer survives in Australia. What is clear is that these paintings are significantly different from other rock art in Australia in terms of style and materials used. One of the most striking things about these paintings is that they are remarkably reminiscent of African culture. This, and the geographical commonality shared between the paintings and the baobab trees, has prompted us to investigate the possibility of a link between the sources of these two unusual Kimberley features. If this species was brought to Australia by a people from Africa, it should be possible to identify an ancestral tree population which should be found in a coastal location. If not, genetic diversity should be relatively similar across the Kimberly.
I work on this project with Jack Pettigrew (The University of Queensland)
More detail here


What is Synthetic Biology? Click here to view.
An animated cartoon aimed at non-scientists, explaining what synthetic biology is. Developed with the Royal Institution of Australia and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Synthetic Biology: What does it mean for you? Click here for videos.
A public forum explaining what synthetic biology is and engaging with the public on legislative and ethical issues surrounding synthetic biology. Presented at The Science Exchange, Royal Institution of Australia and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Club Cosmos: Synthetic Biology in the Pub Part 1 and Part 2
A pub discussion of synthetic biology at Forresters Hotel, Surry Hills, Sydney. Presented by Club Cosmos (Cosmos Magazine) and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

RiAus PDPlus: Synthetic Biology - Creating life in the lab
Aimed at secondary school teachers as a teaching assistance tool, this is an everyday language explanation of what synthetic biology is, what training you need to do it, and what the industry is like in Australia and across the world. Presented at The Science Exchange, Royal Institution of Australia and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research


pGFPGUSPlus: a dual reporter gene binary vector for plant transformation

sXynA: A synthetic xylanase reporter gene for functional analysis
; see the Idiot (wet lab) Guide here
Rapid, high-throughput cloning



  • PhD (Molecular Biology), The University of Queensland/CSIRO Plant Industry
  • Honours I (Molecular Biology), The University of Queensland
  • BSc, The University of Queensland

    Research Experience

    2011 - ResTeach Affiliated Academic, School of Chemical Engineering, The University of Queensland, Australia
    2010 - Smart Futures Fellow, Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), The University of Queensland, Australia
    2007-2010 Senior Research Fellow, Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), The University of Queensland, Australia
    2004-2007 Senior Research Officer, Essex University, England; Visiting Scientist, Lancaster University, England
    2003-2004 Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, ARC Centre for Integrative Legume Research, The University of Queensland, Australia
    1999-2003 PhD, The University of Queensland/CSIRO Plant Industry, Australia


    Professional Memberships and Duties

    Member of: Editorial board member for Biotechnology Letters
    Reviewer for numerous international journals and funding agencies


    Journal Articles

    Vickers, C.E.; Bydder, S.F.; Zhou, Y.; Nielsen, L.K. (2013) Dual gene expression cassette vectors with antibiotic selection markers for engineering in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Microbial Cell Factories 12:96 doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-96 PMID: 24161108

    Ryan, A. C.; Hewitt, C. N.; Possell, M.; Vickers, C.E.; Purnell, A.; Mullineaux, P. M., Davies, W. J.; Dodd, I.C. (2013) Isoprene emission protects photosynthesis but reduces plant productivity during drought in transgenic tobacco plants. New Phytologist 201(1):205-16 doi:10.1111/nph.1247 PMID: 24102245

    Behrendorff, J.B.Y.H.; Vickers, C.E.; Chrysanthopoulos, P; Nielsen, L.K. (2013) 2,2-Diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl as a screening tool for recombinant monoterpene biosynthesis. Microbial Cell Factories 12:76 doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-76 PMID: 23968454

    Jardine, K.J.; Meyers, K.; Abrell, L.; Alves, E.G.; Serrano, A.M.Y; Manzi, A; Kesselmeier, J.; Karl, T.; Guenther, A; Chambers, J.; Vickers, C.E. (2013) Emissions of putative isoprene oxidation products from mango branches under abiotic stress. Journal of Experimental Botany 64(12):3669-79 doi:10.1093/jxb/ert202 PMID: 23881400

    Sabri, S.; Steen, J.A.; Bongers, M.; Nielsen, L.K.; Vickers, C.E.*; (2013) Knock-in/Knock-out (KIKO) vectors for rapid integration of large DNA sequences, including whole metabolic pathways, onto the Escherichia coli chromosome at well-characterised loci. Microbial Cell Factories, 12:60. doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-60. doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-60 PMID: 23799955

    Williams, T.C.; Nielsen, L.K.; Vickers, C.E. (2013) Engineered quorum-sensing using pheromone-mediated cell-to-cell communication in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. ACS Synthetic Biology 2(3):136-149 Link: ACS Snthetic Biology

    Sabri, S.; Nielsen, L.K.; Vickers, C.E. (2013) Molecular control of sucrose utilization in Escherichia coli W, an efficient sucrose-utilizing strain. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79(2):478-487. doi:10.1128/AEM.02544-12 PMID: 223124236

    Pettigrew, J.D.; Bell, K.L.; Bhagwandin, A.; Grinan, E.; Jillani, N.; Meyer, J.; Wabuyele, E.; Vickers, C.E. (2012) Morphology, ploidy and molecular phylogenetics reveal a new diploid species from Africa in the baobab genus Adansonia (Bombacoideae; Malvaceae). Taxon 61(6):1240 Link

    Vickers, C.E.; Klein-Marcuschamer, D.; Krömer, J.O. (2012) Examining the feasibility of bulk commodity production in Escherichia coli. Biotechnology Letters 34(4):585-596 PMID: 22160295.

    Bruschi, M; Boyes, SJ; Sugiarto, H; Nielsen, LK; Vickers, C.E. (2011) A transferable sucrose utilization approach for non-sucrose-utilizing Escherichia coli strains. Biotechnology Advances 30(5):1001-1010 doi:10.1016/j.biotechadv.2011.08.019 PMID: 21907272.

    Arifin,Y; Sabri, S.; Sugiarto, H.; Krömer, JO; Vickers, C.E.; Nielsen, L.K. (2011) Deletion of cscR in Escherichia coli W improves growth and poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) production from sucrose in fed batch culture. Journal of Biotechnology, 156(4):275-278. doi:10.1016/j.jbiotec.2011.07.003 PMID: 21782859.

    Wicks, J.R.; Oldridge, N.O.; Nielsen, L.K.; Vickers, C.E. (2011) Heart Rate Index - a simple method for prediction of oxygen uptake. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43(10):2005-2012. PMID: 21364476

    Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Ryan, A.C.; Hewitt, C.N.; Mullineaux, P. (2011) Isoprene synthesis in plants: lessons from a transgenic tobacco model. Plant, Cell & Environment 34(6):1043–1053. PMID: 21388420. Link

    Archer, C.T.; Kim,J.F.;Jeong, H.; Park,J.H.; Vickers, C.E.; Lee, S.Y.; Nielsen, L. (2011) The genome sequence of E. coli W ATCC 9637: comparative genome analysis and an improved genome-scale reconstruction of E. coli. BMC Genomics 12:9 doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-9. PMID: 21208457. Link

    Vickers, C.E.; Blank, L.M.; Kroemer, J.O. (2010) Chassis cells for industrial biochemical production. Nature Chemical Biology 6(12):875–877 Link

    Lee. J.W.; Choi, S.;Park, J.H.; Vickers, C.E.; Nielsen, L.; Lee, S.Y. (2010) Development of sucrose-utilizing Escherichia coli K-12 strain by cloning β-fructofuranosidases and its application for L-threonine production. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 88(4):905-913 Link

    Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Hewitt, C.N.; Mullineaux, P. (2010) Genetic structure and regulation of isoprene synthase in Poplar (Populus spp.). Plant Molecular Biology, 73(4-5): 547 - 558 Link

    Joachimsthal, E.L.; Reeves, R.K.H.; Hung, J.; Nielsen, L.K.; Owerkerk, D.; Klieve, A.V.; Vickers, C.E. (2010) Production of bacteriocins by Streptococcus bovis strains from Australian ruminants. Journal of Applied Microbiology 108(2):428-436 Link

    Possell, M.; Ryan, A.; Vickers, C.E.; Mullineaux, P.; Hewitt, C.N. (2009) Effects of fosmidomycin on plant photosynthesis as measured by gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence. Photosynthesis Research 104 (1): 49 - 59 Link

    Vickers, C.E.; Gershenzon, J.; Lerdau,M.T.; Loreto, F. (2009) A unified mechanism of action for volatile isoprenoids in plant abiotic stress. Nature Chemical Biology 5(5):283-291 Link

    Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Cojocariu, C.; Velikova, V.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Ryan, A.; Mullineaux, P.M.; Hewitt, C.N. (2009) Isoprene synthesis protects transgenic tobacco plants from oxidative stress. Plant, Cell & Environment 32 (5):520 - 531 Link

    Laothawornkitkul J.; Paul N.D., Vickers, C.E., Possell M., Taylor J.E., Mullineaux P.M., Hewitt C.N. (2008). The role of isoprene in insect herbivory. Plant Signaling and Behaviour 3(12):1141-1142 Link

    Laothawornkitkul, J.; Paul, Nigel D.; Vickers, C.; Possell, M.; Taylor, J.; Mullineaux, P.; Hewitt, C.N. (2008) Isoprene emissions influence herbivore feeding decisions. Plant, Cell & Environment 31:1410-1415 Link

    Vickers, C.E.; Schenk, P.M.; Mullineaux, P.M. Gresshoff, P.M. (2007) pGFPGUSPlus, a new binary vector for gene expression studies and optimising transformation systems in plants. Biotechnology Letters 29:1793-1796 Link

    Vickers, C.E.; Xue, G-P.; Gresshoff, P.M. (2006) A novel cis-acting element, ESP, contributes to high level endosperm-specific expression in an oat globulin promoter. Plant Molecular Biology 62 (1-2):195-214 Link

    Wilkinson, M.J.; Owen, S.M.; Possell, M.; Hartwell, J.; Gould, P.; Hall, A.; Vickers, C.; Hewitt, C.N. (2006) Circadian control of isoprene emissions from oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Plant Journal 47(6):960-968 Link

    Buzas, D.M.; Lohar, D.; Sato, S.; Nakamura, Y.; Tabata, S.; Vickers, C.E.; Stiller, J.; Gresshoff, P.M. (2005) Promoter trapping in Lotus japonicus reveals novel root and nodule GUS expression domains. Plant and Cell Physiology 46(8):1202-12 Link

    Schünmann, P.H.D.; Richardson, A.E.; Vickers, C.E.; Delhaize, E. (2004) Promoter analysis of the barley Pht1;1 phosphate transporter gene identifies regions controlling root expression and responsiveness to phosphate deprivation. Plant Physiology 136(4):4205-4214 Link

    Schenk, P.M.; Vickers, C.E., Manners, J.M. (2003) Rapid cloning of novel genes and promoters for functional analyses. Transgenics 4:151-156.

    Vickers, C. E.; Gresshoff, P.M.; Xue, G.P. (2003) A synthetic xylanase as a novel reporter in plants. Plant Cell Reports 22(2): 135-140 Link

    Xue, G-P.; Patel, M.; Johnson, J.S.; Smyth, D.J.; Vickers, C.E. (2003) Selectable marker-free transgenic barley producing a high level of cellulase (1,4-β-glucanase) in developing grains. Plant Cell Reports 21(11): 1088-1094 Link

    Non-Peer Reviewed Publicatons

    Vickers, C.E. (2009) Volatiles may help calm farming stresses. Australian Grain magazine May-June 2009, pp 12-14


    Vickers, C.E. (2013) Understanding metabolic regulation of the MEP pathway: A systems and synthetic biology approach. TERPNET 2013, Kolymvari, Crete; June 1st-June 5th 2013

    Vickers, C.E. (2012) Metabolic engineering using systems and synthetic biology. World Congress on Risk 2012, Sydney, Australia; July 18th-20th 2012

    Vickers, C.E. Bruschi, M.; Boyes, S.J.; Nielsen, L.K. (2011) Sucrose-to-Bioproducts: Engineering a sucrose-based E. coli platform for industrial bioproduction. International Conference for Biomolecular Engineering; San Francisco, California; January 16th - 19th 2011

    Vickers, C.E. Bruschi, M.; Boyes, S.J.; Nielsen, L.K. (2010) Transferrable sucrose utilization in E. coli. Metabolic Engineering VII; Jeju, Korea; July 13th – July 18th 2010

    Vickers, C.E. Arifin, Y.; Archer, C.T.; Sugiarto, A.; Nielsen, L.K. (2010) Sucrose-to-BioProducts: Metabolic Engineering for PHB in Sucrose-Utilising E. coli. Genetics of Industrial Microorganisms; Melbourne, Australia; June 28th – July 1st 2010

    Vickers, C.E.; Gershenzon, J.; Lerdau, M.T.; Loreto, F. (2009) A unified mechanism of action for volatile isoprenoids in plant abiotic stress. TERPNET2009, 25th May – 29th May 2009, Tokyo, Japan

    Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Cojocariu, C.; Velikova, V.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Mullineaux, P.M.; Hewitt, C.N. (2007) Molecular characterisation of isoprene synthase in poplar and transgenic tobacco. TERPNET2007, 30th April – 5th May 2007, Strasbourg, France (invited)

    Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Cojocariu, C.; Velikova, V.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Mullineaux, P.M.; Hewitt, C.N. (2007) Molecular biology of isoprene emission in poplar and transgenic tobacco. Gordon Research Conference on Biogenic Volatiles and the Atmosphere, 26th February – 5th March 2007, Ventura, California, U.S.A (invited).

    Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Hewitt, C.N.; Mullineaux, P.M. (2006) Molecular biology of isoprene emission in poplar and transgenic tobacco. Plastid Preview 2006, 11th – 12th September 2006, Essex University, Colchester, UK

    Vickers, C.E.; Gresshoff, P.M.; Xue, G-P. (2003) An oat globulin promoter drives endosperm-specific expression in transgenic barley. Proceedings, ISPMB2003, 23rd - 28th June 2003, Barcelona, Spain.

    Vickers, C.E.; Gresshoff, P.M., Xue, G.P. (2001) Deletion analysis of an endosperm-specific promoter isolated from oat. Proceedings, ComBio2001, 1st- 4th October 2000, Canberra, Australia.

    Vickers, C.; (2000) Promoting agri-revolution in the cereal world. Proceedings, 15th Australasian Biotechnology Conference, 2-6 July 2000, Brisbane Australia, p.60

    Vickers, C.; Gresshoff, P.; Xue, G. (2000) Activity of seed storage protein promoters in barley and wheat. Proceedings, 15th Australasian Biotechnology Conference, 2-6 July 2000, Brisbane Australia, p.83

    Vickers, C.E.; Gresshoff, P.M.; Xue, G.P. (2000) Analysis of endosperm-specific promoters in cereal crops. Proceedings, ComBio2000, 11-14th December 2000, Wellington, New Zealand.


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