woman at aquaria tank filed with oral, standing under special aquaria lighting.

Prof Madeleine van Oppen

Senior Principal Research Scientist
Coral genetics
Contact number
07 4753 4370
+61 7 4753 4370
Contact email

Professor Madeleine van Oppen is an ecological geneticist with an interest in microbial symbioses and climate change adaptation of reef corals. Her work has been published in >190 peer reviewed papers and book chapters. Her early career focused on evolutionary and population genetics of algae and fish, and subsequently corals.

Her current research focuses on the development of coral stock better able to cope with disturbed environments and predicted future ocean conditions (i.e., assisted evolution). This includes the development of bacterial probiotics, the directed evolution of the coral's microalgal symbionts, coral hybridisation and selective breeding, and coral conditioning. Her team is also exploring genetic engineering of microbial symbionts with the aim to increase coral thermal tolerance. Omics and advanced microscopy approaches are used by her research group in combination with phenotypic measurements to gain understanding of the mechanisms of adaptation and acclimation of corals to climate change.

Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow (AIMS/Univ Melbourne)
Senior Principal Research Scientist (AIMS)/Professor in Marine Biology (Univ Melbourne)
Australian Research Council Future Fellow (AIMS)
Inaugural director of the Centre for Marine Microbiology and Genetics (AIMS)
Research Team Leader (AIMS)
Australian Research Council Fellow, James Cook Univ (Australia)
Postdoctoral Fellow, James Cook Univ (Australia)
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Univ East Anglia (UK)
PhD, Univ Groningen, Netherlands. Thesis: Tracking Trails by Cracking Codes: Molecular Biogeography and Evolution of Benthic Cold-Water Seaweeds.

Madeleine is driven by a desire to find biological solutions for mitigating the effects of climate warming that have resulted in a terrifyingly rapid loss of coral around the world. She currently works in two main areas of research:

  1. Coral assisted evolution for reef restoration
  2. The ecology and evolution of the coral-microbial symbiosis

Madeleine pioneered the field of coral assisted evolution (e.g., van Oppen et al. 2015 PNAS 112: 2307-2313), research that is now widely used at AIMS and by many other research organisations across the globe. Her Laureate Fellowship aims to develop microbes able to enhance the climate resilience of corals. She also conducts more basic research to decipher the roles of bacterial and microalgal symbionts within the coral holobiont, and the interactions among coral, algae and bacteria.

Paul Allen Ocean Challenge award (with Ruth Gates) Building a biological toolkit to mitigate ocean acidification impacts and restore corals reefs
Dorothy Hill award, awarded by the Australian Academy of Science for Madeleine’s contributions to Australia’s coral reef science
PhD obtained cum laude