The adaptation of molecules into computational components is enabling unprecedented control over molecular operations. For instance, I am developing molecular computing technology for the design of light-weight biosensors that can process biomolecular information without requiring batteries or wires. I adapted DNA-based logic gates to analyse disease nucleic acids such as Ebola and Marburg viruses, and display diagnoses in dot-matrix text without requiring any post-processing of results. My group also extended this display concept for multiplex analysis of biomarkers on a lateral flow device, demonstrating the first biomolecule-driven digital-like 7-segment display able to operate on a paper based biosensor. This technology is generic and can be used for detection of many different biomarkers. Importantly, when integrated with isothermal amplification technologies, nucleic acids can be sensitively and rapidly detected in multiplex format. We are applying this technology for the detection of human and animal pathogens such as Hendra, Ebola, Dengue and Malaria. Developed assays have demonstrated excellent analytical sensitivity, specificity and speed, detecting <100 copies of nucleic acid templates, allowing discrimination between closely related pathogens, and operating in as little as 6 minutes. This technology provides a pathway to sensitive, rapid, lightweight and easy-to-interpret multiplex disease diagnosis without requiring external readers to interpret signals. Such devices demonstrate the power of molecular engineering for the advancement of new technology frontiers.


A/Prof Joanne Macdonald’s research focuses on synthetically extending the capabilities of molecules beyond their natural functions. She co-developed a computer made entirely of DNA molecules able to play the game tic-tac-toe interactively against a human opponent. This molecular computing technology is now being used in her group to develop rapid biosensing platforms for both human diagnostics and surveillance of diseases transmitted by animals and mosquitoes. A/Prof Macdonald 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 is also investigating other detoxification agents and the development of smart materials. She is jointly appointed to both the University of the Sunshine Coast (Queensland, Australia) and Columbia University (New York, USA). A previous Queensland Government Smart Futures fellow, she has attracted >6 million in research funding, including a prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates foundation Grant Challenges Exploration grant, and was recently awarded the 2016 Rose-Anne Kelso award by Life Sciences Queensland for her outstanding contributions to life sciences and translational research. She holds 10 awarded international patents, and recently co-founded the start-up company BioCifer Pty. Ltd. to assist with commercialisation of her technology.

About AIBN Seminar Series

The AIBN Seminar series showcases a range of seminars across different topics and disciplines