van Oppen, Madeleine

Prof Madeleine van Oppen

Madeleine is a Senior Principal Research Scientist in the "A Healthy and Resilient GBR" Program. She also holds an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship (2019-2023).

Contact Information

Phone 07 4753 4370
Int +61-7-4753 4370


Madeleine's research focuses on coral reef conservation and restoration, in particular 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 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.


1995: PhD, University of Groningen, Netherlands. Thesis "Tracking Trails by Cracking Codes: Molecular Biogeography and Evolution of Benthic Cold-Water Seaweeds".


Assessment of the feasibility of genetic manipulations to enhance stress tolerance and fitness of corals in a changing environment (i.e., assisted evolution). Approaches include transgenerational acclimatisation, selective breeding of coral, manipulation of prokaryotic communities of corals, and experimental evolution of microalgal symbionts. 

Understanding of molecular mechanisms involved in the establishment and maintenance of the coral-algal symbiosis.


Member of Victorian Marine and Coastal Council Science Panel
Scientific Advisory Committee for the Red Sea Research Centre at King Abdullah University Science and Technology
Chair of Gordon conference Marine Molecular Ecology 2019
Member of local organising committee for a bid to host the International Symposium of Microbial Ecology in Auckland in 2022
Associate Editor for the journal Science Advances


Epstein H, Torda G, Munday P, van Oppen MJH (2019) Parental and early life stage environments drive establishment of bacterial and dinoflagellate communities in a common coral. ISME J,

Chan WY, Peplow LM, Menéndez P, Hoffmann AA, van Oppen MJH (2018) Interspecific hybridization may provide novel opportunities for coral reef restoration. Frontiers in Marine Science, 5, 160. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00160.

van Oppen MJH, Bongaerts P, Frade P, Peplow LM, Boyd SE, Nim HT, Bay LK (2018) Adaptation to reef habitats through selection on the coral animal and its associated microbiome. Molecular Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/mec.14763

Chakravarti LJ, Beltran VH, van Oppen MJH (2017) Rapid temperature adaptation in photosymbionts of reef-building corals. Global Change Biology, 23, 4675–4688, DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13702.

Damjanovic K, Blackall LL, Webster NS, van Oppen MJH (2017) The contribution of microbial biotechnology to mitigating coral reef degradation. Microbial Biotechnology, doi:10.1111/1751-7915.12769.

Levin RA, Voolstra CR, Agrawal Steinberg PD, Suggett DJ, van Oppen MJH (2017) Engineering strategies to decode and enhance coral symbiont biology. Frontiers in Microbiology, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2017.01220.

van Oppen MJH, Gates RD, Blackall LL, et al. (2017) Shifting paradigms in restoration of the world’s coral reefs. Global Change Biology, 23, 3437-3448.

Levin RA, Suggett D, Nitschke M, van Oppen MJH, Steinberg PD. Expanding the Symbiodinium (Dinophyceae, Suessiales) toolkit through protoplast technology (2017) The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, 10.1111/jeu.12393.

Marcelino VR, van Oppen MJH, Verbruggen H (2017) Highly structured prokaryote communities exist within the skeleton of coral colonies. ISME J, 12, 300-303.

van Oppen MJH, Oliver JK, Putnam HM, Gates RD (2015) Building coral reef resilience through assisted evolution. PNAS 112:2307-2313

Howells EJ, Beltran VH, Larsen NW, Bay LK, Willis BL, van Oppen MJH. Coral thermal tolerance shaped by local adaptation of photosymbionts. Nature Climate Change 2:116-120

Berkelmans R, van Oppen MJH (2006) The role of zooxanthellae in the thermal tolerance of corals: a 'nugget of hope' for coral reefs in an era of climate change. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, Biological Sciences 273:2305-2312