Personal details

Professor Robert Speight
Professor (Microbial Biotechnology)
Faculty of Science,
School of Biology & Environmental Science
Discipline *
Industrial Biotechnology, Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Microbiology
+61 7 3138 0373
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Identifiers and profiles
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PhD (University of Cambridge)

Professional memberships
and associations
  • Vice President – Synthetic Biology Australasia

Enzyme engineering and optimisation, Protein production, Microbial Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Synthetic Biology

* Field of Research code, Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC), 2008


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 program leader in the Centre for a Waste Free World, a chief investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology and teaches microbiology 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
  • Waste processing
  • Scale-up and Commercialisation
  • Techno-economic assessments of bioprocesses
  • Business case analyses
  • Fermentation and downstream processing scale-up at QUT’s Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant

Post-doctoral, research assistant, PhD, masters and undergraduate research project opportunities are also available.

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 ( 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 (
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.

This information has been contributed by Professor Robert Speight.


Study Area Coordinator: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Process)


  • Applications in Biotechnology (BVB328)
  • Microbiology and the Environment (BVB305)
  • Industrial Chemistry (EGH411/CVB211)
  • Biological Processes (BVB201)
  • Forensic Biology and Analytical Toxicology (CVB225)

Research project supervision:

  • Integrative Biology (BVB304)
  • Honours
  • Masters
  • PhD
This information has been contributed by Professor Robert Speight.


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
This information has been contributed by Professor Robert Speight.


For more publications by this staff member, visit QUT ePrints, the University's research repository.

Research projects

Grants and projects (Category 1: Australian Competitive Grants only)

Industrial Biotechnology for Improved Manufacture of Medicinal Alkaloids
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
Start year
New enzyme systems for removal of dags from feedlot cattle
Primary fund type
CAT 1 - Australian Competitive Grant
Project ID
Start year


Current supervisions

  • Multistep Continuous Biocatalytic Cascades
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Associate Professor Mark Harrison
  • Development of a novel biocatalytic process for the production of codeine from thebaine
    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
  • Investigating novel animal feed additives for improving gut health
    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
  • Improved Wastewater Management with Detailed Characterisation of Potential Organisms to Synthesise Value-Added Products
    PhD, Principal Supervisor
    Other supervisors: Professor Ian O'Hara, Dr James Strong