Synthetic biology to examine basic metabolic processes and build novel biological parts and devices

Associate Professor Vickers applies synthetic biology approaches to answering key fundamental biological questions and to development/improvement of industrial bio-processes. In particular, she is interested in using biology to replace current industrial practices (largely based on finite petrochemical resources) with sustainable, environmentally friendly processes.To this end, we use the tools of  systems and synthetic biology for metabolic engineering of organisms.  Metabolic engineering is the rational redesign of organisms for  production of specific industrially-useful compounds. Associate Professor Vickers is particularly interested in a large group of natural products called isoprenoids. Isoprenoids have many different biological functions, and they also have a multitude of biotechnological applications. We currently work in yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae),Escherichia coli, cyanobacteria (Synechocystis and Synechococcus spp.), Pseudomonas putida, and plants (various species). 

Associate Professor Vickers obtained a BSc (Hons I) in molecular biology from the University of Queensland in 1998 and a PhD in plant molecular biology (cereal crop biotechnology) through CSIRO Plant Industry and The University of Queensland in 2004. She held a post-doctoral position at The University of Essex and Visiting Scientist position at the University of Lancaster 2004-2007, where she worked on abiotic stress and isoprene production in plants. She returned to The University of Queensland in 2007, joining the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology to expand her research program into microbial metabolic engineering. Since then she has headed a group focused on the metabolism and physiology of the isoprenoid group of natural products. Dr Vickers has worked with industry partners in a range of application areas to provide consulting expertise and deliver industry-focused outcomes. She has also acted as an advisor on synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology for the Australian Federal Government, the Queensland Government, and the Institute on Science for Global Policy. She has won numerous awards and Fellowships, including a Queensland Government Smart State Fellowship (2010), the University of Queensland Foundation Research Excellence Award (2013), a Queensland Government Accelerate Fellowship (2014), and a Young Tall Poppy Science Award (Australian Institute of Policy & Science; 2014). She has been working to develop and support synthetic biology across Australia and New Zealand for several years; as part of this initiative, she is founding President ofSynthetic Biology Australasia (SBA).

Industry Engagement and Collaborations

​Current academic collaborations include partners at The University of Queensland, University of Tasmania, CSIRO Land & Water, Utsunomiya University (Japan)

​The group has collaborated with industry on a vareity of different projects. Previous/current industry partners include: Queensland Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF Q), Lion (the brewing company), the XXXX Brewery, Stone & Wood Brewery, Joe White Maltings (now owned by Cargill), PepsiCo (USA), Samyang (Korea), CSR Ltd, GS Caltex, Boeing Australia, Mackay Sugar Ltd, IOR Energy, Virgin Australia, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, and Amyris (Berkeley, California).


    • Strain Improvement and optimization studies for enhanced production of GGPP (Geranylgeranyl Pyrophosphate) (2016–2018) Samyang Biopharmaceuticals Corporation
    • A sensitive, high resolution QTOF mass spectrometer with nanoUPLC system for qualitative and quantitative biomolecule analysis. (2015) UQ Major Equipment and Infrastructure
    • From sugarcane to bio-products via microbial cell factories: Making sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture chemicals to enhance crop productivity (2014–2018) Queensland Government Accelerate Fellowships
    • Toward sustainable diesel production using microbial cells: unravelling isoprenoid pathway regulation through systems biology (2014–2016) ARC Discovery Projects
    • Investigating the important foam positive proteins from malt (2014–2015) UQ Collaboration and Industry Engagement Fund
    • From a petrochemical economy to a biochemical economy: Using synthetic biology to produce sustainable, environmentally friendly fuels and chemicals from engineered microbial cell bio-factories (2014) UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards - DVC(R) Funding
    • Multichannel potentiostats to drive microbial and electrochemical production processes (2011) UQ Major Equipment and Infrastructure
    • Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative (2010–2014) Queensland Government Smart State National and International Research Alliances Program
    • Smart Futures Fellowship: Engineering sucrose-based industrial isoprenoid production in yeast cells (2010–2014) Queensland Government Smart Futures Fellowships

    Key Publications

    Vickers, C.E.*; Bongers, M.; Qing, L.; Delatte, T.; Bouwmeester, H. (2014) Metabolic engineering of volatile isoprenoids in plants and microbes. Plant Cell & Environment 37(8):1753-1775

    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

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

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

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