BSc 1st Class Hons (University of Queensland) Microbiology, PhD (University of Queensland) Microbiology
Emeritus Professor (Microbiology)

I joined The University of Queensland in 1983, following positions at Griffith University and Monash University, and was appointed Senior Lecturer in the Department of Microbiology in 1995; overseas research has included periods in the laboratory of Professor James T Staley, University of Washington, the Laboratory of Prof. Mike Rout in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Rockefeller University, and the Department of Microbiology, Radboud University of Nijmegen.

Member, American Society of Microbiology,
Member, Australian Society for Microbiology,
Member, Society for General Microbiology (UK)

Research Focus and Collaborations: 


Research in my laboratory is concerned with major questions in evolutionary microbiology, microbial cell biology and microbial ecology. It concentrates on the relevance of bacteria in divergent phyla such as Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia and Poribacteria to significant deep problems of biology such as the origin of the eukaryotic cell nucleus and eukaryotic cell skeletons, and in a second stream, on the diversity of the bacteria including planctomycetes and actinobacteria, of marine sponges and their relevance to natural product biodiscovery. Planctomycetes include bacteria such as the anammox planctomycetes, significant for environmental remediation and sustainability due to their ability to oxidize ammonia without the need for oxygen, and significant also for understanding the global nitrogen cycle as a major source of atmospheric nitrogen.

Planctomycete research – a window on evolution of the cell and cell biology
The planctomycete Gemmata obscuriglobus, which we have shown possesses a membrane-bounded nucleoid analogous to the interphase nucleus of eukaryote cells, is used as a model for study of planctomycete cell organization and its relevance to cell evolution, via ultrastructural and genomic approaches. We have recently made the major discovery of an endocytosis-like process in the bacterium G. obscuriglobus, a process previously thought to be restricted to eukaryotes. This process displays distinct molecular signatures of eukaryote cell biology, and its discovery has major implications for the understanding of the origin and evolution of the nucleus and endomembrane system of eukaryote cells. We are developing genetic systems for study of planctomycetes and approaches to characterizing the molecules underlying their cell biology via proteomics and genomics.

Sponge microbial community bacteria – a new resource for biodiscovery
In a connected effort to that on planctomycetes, we also study the diversity of bacteria associated with Great Barrier Reef marine sponges, with the aim of identifying microorganisms in these sponges possessing similar cell organization to that of plactomycetes. The bacteria of these sponges, including members of the novel actinobacterial genus Salinispora and their metagenome are being isolated and screened for genes responsible for polyketide antibiotic synthesis within the context of marine biotechnology and drug discovery. With Prof Nick Shaw of the School of Pharmacy and Dr John Hooper of Queensland Museum, we are exploring the diversity of Salinispora from sponges of the Great Barrier Reef and their potential for synthesis of diverse natural products including antibiotics and anti-cancer compounds and as a source of genes for natural product synthesis such as non-ribosomal peptide synthases. The anti-mycobacterial rifamycins and the anti-cancer staurosporines are two such compound classes we have detected in our cultures. We are also exploring the potential for planctomycetes to synthesize bioactive compounds via gene sequencing methods.

International Collaborations
Prof Dr Dirk Schüler, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany
Dr Laura van Niftrik and Prof Dr Mike S.M. Jetten, Radboud University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Prof James T Staley, University of Washington, USA
Dr Josef Franke, Carnegie-Mellon University, USA
Dr Damien Devos, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany
Professor Nigel Goldenfeld and Institute for Genomic Biology Fellow Dr Nicholas Chia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Prof Ute Hentschel, University of Wurzburg, Germany
Prof Michael P Rout, Rockefeller University, USA

Other collaborations
Professor P. Nicholas Shaw, School of Pharmacy
Associate Professor Bernie Carroll, School of Chemistry and Molecular Bioscences
Dr John Hooper, Queensland Museum
Richard I Webb, Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis

Funded Projects: 

ARC Discovery Prject 2008-2010
Nuclear structure and function in the nucleated planctomycete bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobus: a third cell plan for living organisms?
Total value of grant: $255,000

ARC LInkage Project Grant 2008-2011
Diversity of Salinispora actinobacteria producing pharmaceutically relevant natural products from Australian marine sponges 
total value of grante: $94,881


Recent teaching was in Molecular microbiology, microbial diversity, microbial biotechnology

Recent postgraduate supervision (2010): 5 PhD students, 2 Honours students

Significant Professional Activities and Awards: 
  • Visiting Professor, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2008-2009
  • Toekenning Bezoekersbeurs Fellowship (for Visiting Scientists to The Netherlands) from Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research)
  • Presented Invited Lecture, "Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia and the Evolution of Cell Organization” as part of the University of Illinois Institute of Genome Biology "Pioneers in Genomic Biology Lecture Series" for 2008 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois , USA - chaired by Crafoord Prize winner Professor Carl Woese.
  • Participant and presenter at the Santa Fe Institute invited workshop June 16-19 2008 “Compartmentation, Phase Separation and the Origin of Life ", Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
  • Fuerst, J.A. 2006. Invited seminar, ‘Planctomycetes, verrucomicrobia and the evolution of cell organization’ Pasteur Institute, Paris
  • Participant and presenter at the prestigious La Fondation des Treilles invited conferences, Les Treilles, France in 2004 and 2006 on “Origin and Evolution of the Cell Nucleus” and “LUCA: ten years after”.

Planctomycetes: Cell Structure, Origins and Biology, edited by Professor Fuerst, is available via the publisher's website.

Details can also be found via

Latest news:


Fuerst, John A. and Sagulenko, Evgeny (2013) Towards understanding the molecular mechanism of the endocytosis-like process in the bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobus. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA): Molecular Cell Research, In Press, Uncorrected Proof : 1-7

on potential molecular mechanisms of endocytosis-like protein uptake in the planctomycete Gemmata obscuriglobus



Selected Publications: