Adjunct Professor Robert Speight

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Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Science

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

Robert Speight is Adjunct Professor of Microbial Biotechnology at QUT. He is also Director of the CSIRO Advanced Engineering Biology Future Science Platform. His research interests include the development of enzymes and microbial production systems for industrial applications. He collaborates closely with Dr James Behrendorff and other members of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology and the Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy at QUT. 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
  • Future foods
  • 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. He was promoted to Professor in 2019 and became Acting Head of the School of Biology and Environmental Sciences in 2021. In 2022, Robert moved to CSIRO to become the Director of the Advanced Engineering Biology Future Science Platform.  Robert maintains an Adjunct Professorship to support ongoing projects.

Projects (Chief investigator)

Projects

Additional information

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
V.RDP.3010
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
2015/902
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
LP160100182
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
B.FLT.0228
Start year
2016
Keywords
Dags; Enzymes; Livestock