Professor Robert Speight

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Chief Investigator

PhD (University of Cambridge), Chemistry (Imperial College, London)

Robert Speight is Professor of Microbial Biotechnology at QUT. Research in his group is focused on the development of enzymes and microbial production systems for industrial applications. He is also the Industrial and Synthetic Biotechnology program leader in the Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy, a chief investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology and teaches microbiology, forensics and biotechnology. We welcome collaborations with industry and companies as well as other academic groups in the following areas:

  • Industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology
  • Enzyme optimisation
  • High throughput enzyme assays
  • Microbial protein production systems - strain discovery, development and fermentation (bacteria and yeast)
  • Chemical manufacture using biocatalysts
  • Animal feed supplement development and testing
  • Future foods
  • Waste processing
  • Scale-up and Commercialisation
  • Techno-economic assessments of bioprocesses
  • Business case analyses
  • Precision fermentation and downstream processing at lab scale and scale-up at QUT's Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant

Background Robert obtained a first-class degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London in 1996. He completed his PhD (2000) at the University of Cambridge at Downing College and the Department of Biochemistry, researching new protein display technologies for high throughput protein library screening applications. Robert then took a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Edinburgh in the laboratories of Professors Nicholas Turner and Sabine Flitsch, researching the directed evolution of cytochrome P450 enzymes for altered substrate specificity, in collaboration with Imperial Chemical Industries plc. In 2003, Robert obtained a Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship to co-found, spin-out and commercialise an industrial biotechnology company called Ingenza Ltd (www.ingenza.com). At Ingenza, Robert was initially Managing Director, then Operations Director and he led the biotechnology research team of ten scientists. During this time he contributed to the team winning and delivering over £1.9M in collaborative grants as well as significant number of industrial customer projects. The team worked extensively on the directed evolution of amine and amino acid oxidase enzymes for altered specificity and improved stability in industrial chemical manufacturing process conditions. The team also developed and tested novel biofuel microbial production strains as well as biopharmaceutical strains under current Good Manufacturing Practice conditions. In 2010, Robert moved to Australia (mostly by train) with his Australian wife and took a position at The University of Queensland, initially at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience with Professor Matt Cooper and then at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology with Professor Lars Nielsen. At AIBN, he continued research activities in biofuels and protein technologies (particularly regarding animal feed enzymes) in parallel with operational and project management in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Group. He coordinated the Queensland Government funded multi-partner $6.5 million Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative and was a chief investigator of the follow-on $0.8 million Research Partnerships Program project, playing a leading role in the management of a diverse consortium of academics and companies and the delivery of the project milestones. He was also a start-up manager for the US$12 million Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation (www.dowcsei.uq.edu.au). In April 2014, Robert accepted an A/Professorship in Microbial Biotechnology at QUT to focus on enzyme engineering and protein production systems for industrial biotechnology applications.

Projects (Chief investigator)

Projects

Additional information

Professor Robert Speight has extensive experience at the interface between industry and academia:

  • Undergraduate scholar with Johnson Matthey Plc
  • PhD sponsored by Pfizer Limited
  • Postdoctoral studies sponsored by Imperial Chemical Industries Limited
  • Co-Founder, Operations Director and Head of Biotechnology at Ingenza Limited

At Ingenza, Associate Professor Speight was responsible for external academic and industrial collaborations as well as internal research and development projects. Technologies were successfully translated to customers (e.g. for high throughput enzyme screening or biocatalytic chemical manufacture) as well as to scale-up by Ingenza, with fermentations operated at up to 30,000 L and in pilot operations in the UK, India and South Korea.

  • Project Manager, Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative

The Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel initiative was a major project sponsored by the Queensland Government and the companies Virgin Australia, Boeing, General Electric, IOR Energy, Mackay Sugar Limited and Amyris.

  • Queensland University of Technology

Professor Speight maintains close industry links and collaborations and has built a portfolio of projects in the following areas:

  1. Enzyme development and optimisation for industrial applications
  2. Protein production systems - bacterial and yeast (e.g. Pichia pastoris)
  3. Microbial fermentations
  4. Enzyme supplements for animal feed
  5. Biocatalytic chemical manufacture
Title
ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
CE200100029
Start year
2020
Keywords
Title
Biorefineries for Profit - Phase 2 (RnD4Profit 18-04-016 | 2019/902) (4207/4395)
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
4-BA20OPM
Start year
2019
Keywords
Agriculture; Bioproducts; Biorefinery; Diversification; Value Chain
Title
Wastes to Profits: Value Propositions for Better Management of Wastes in Animal Industry Supply Chains (4303)
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
00004331.0
Start year
2018
Keywords
Title
A profitable future for Australian agriculture: Biorefineries for higher-value animal feeds, chemicals, and fuels (RnD4Profit 14-01-044) (4207)
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
78452104
Start year
2016
Keywords
Agriculture; Bioproducts; Biorefinery; Diversification; Value Chain
Title
Industrial Biotechnology for Improved Manufacture of Medicinal Alkaloids
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
78587649
Start year
2016
Keywords
Title
New enzyme systems for removal of dags from feedlot cattle
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
78519306
Start year
2016
Keywords
Dags; Enzymes; Livestock
  • Multistep Continuous Biocatalytic Cascades
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Associate Professor Mark Harrison
  • Development of a novel biocatalytic process for the production of codeine fromthebaine
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Dr James Strong
  • Multi-Criteria Tool to Support Decision-Making for Waste Processing Technologies in the Red Meat Industry
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Professor Ian O'Hara, Dr Kate Helmstedt
  • Bacillus Species as Potential Probiotics for Poultry: Role of Xylanase Production
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Dr Leigh Gebbie
  • Engineering RNA-based metabolite sensors for directed evolution of microorganisms
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Professor Alex Beliaev, Dr James Strong
  • Understanding the relationship between sequence and substrate specificity for proteases with keratin hydrolysis activity: bioinformatics and biochemical characterisation
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Associate Professor Mark Harrison