Brendan Burns

Public profile

Brendan Burns
ACA Assistant Director; Senior Lecturer
(+61 2) 9385 3659
(+61 2) 9385 1483
Grouping Type: 
Deputy Directors

Dr Burns has expertise in the study of stromatolite communities. Of particular significance, Dr Burns conducted the first polyphasic study of modern stromatolite communities identifying a range of metabolically diverse organisms. These included a range of cyanobacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, and archaea. This is the first time such a diversity of archaea associated with marine stromatolites has been shown. Several sequences identified are also unique phylotypes with no close relatives in the database, and these may possess novel physiologies vital to the persistent morphogenesis of these living fossils. Characterising the microbial diversity of these stromatolites provided an excellent framework for exploring functional characteristics of these systems to logically advance the research. This is the next rational step in the comprehensive investigation of these ancient ecosystems.

Using this excellent base, Dr Burns has isolated several new archaeal species from this environment that possess unique characteristics, including novel osmolyte patterns suggestive of innovative salt tolerance mechanisms. This has the potential for providing results of national significance in relation to Australia's growing salinity and drought problems. Dr Burns' group has conducted lipid analyses of these communities, which will provide vital information for comparisons with fossilised stromatolites and more rational interpretations of the fossil record.

Dr Burns has also demonstrated for the first time the genetic potential of these systems to produce novel bioactive compounds, including the identification of a putative anti-cancer agent. Most recently Dr Burns and collaborators identified quorum-sensing molecules in stromatolite archaea, potentially the first evidence of this in this domain of life. Dr Burns' findings have also provided information vital to the conservation of these unique resources, monitoring carefully changes in biological diversity that could indicate possible threats to stromatolite systems.

Most significantly, Dr Burns has demonstrated the importance of an integrated approach to the study of a functionally diverse biological system. The long-term goal is to build on this research and extend these kinds of functional complexity studies to other evolutionally significant environments.


Honours and Awards

  • Young Scientist Award (European Helicobacter pylori Study Group; 1997,1998,1999, 2000)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (2000)
  • ASM Research Trust Fellowship (2001)
  • Kanagawa Museum of Natural History Award (2003)
  • Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Invitation Fellowship (2004)
  • NSW Australian Society for Microbiology Members Review Award (2004)
  • Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Scientific Research (2005)
  • Australian Institute of Political Science Tall Poppy Award (2005)
  • Visiting appointment: Associate Professor at the University of Tsukuba, Japan.



Goh, F., Jeon, Y.J., Barrow, K.D., Neilan, B.A., & Burns, B. (2011)
Osmoadaptive strategies of the archaeon Halococcus hamelinensis isolated from a hypersaline stromatolite environment.
Astrobiology. 11: 529-536.

Storey, M.V., van der Gaag, B., & Burns, B.P. (2011)
Advances in on-line drinking water quality monitoring and early warning systems.
Water Research. 45: 741-747

Burns, B.P. & Dharmawan, J. (2011)
Molecular approaches to studying living stromatolites.
Advances in stromatolite geobiology: Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences. Springer.

Burns, B.P. (2011)
Functional genomics of Early Earth microbial communities.
Advances in Genetics Research. 102, Volume 4, pp. In press - 31

Blaber, E., Marcal, H., Foster, L.J., & Burns, B.P. (2010)
In space no one can hear you sneeze.
Australasian Science Magazine. 102: 29 - 31

Marcal, H., & Burns, B.P. (2010)
A human mission to mars: a bioastronautics analysis of the biomedical risks and challenges.
Journal of Cosmology. 12: 3748-3757.

Goh, Q.Y., Barrow, K.D., Burns, B.P., & Neilan, B.A. (2010)
Identification and regulation of novel compatible solutes from hypersaline stromatolite-associated cyanobacteria.
Archives of Microbiology. 192: 1031-1038

Marcal, H., Blaber, E., & Burns, B.P. (2010)
Bioastronautics analysis of biomedical risks and challenges
The Human Mission to Mars: colonizing the Red Planet (192, pp. 359 - 372). , Cosmology Science Publishers, Cambridge, MA.

Leuko, S., Rothschild, L., & Burns, B.P. (2010)
What do halophilic archaea have to offer in the search for extraterrestrial life?
The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet (102, pp. 647 - 664). Cosmology Science Publishers, Cambridge, MA.

Allen, M.A., Neilan, B.A., Burns, B.P., Jahnke, L.L., & et al. (2010)
Lipid biomarkers in Hamelin Pool microbial mats and stromatolites.
Organic Geochemistry. 41: 1207-1218.

Burns, B.P. (2010)
Life: not as we know it.
Journal of Cosmology. 13: 3621-3624

Burns, B.P. & Dharmawan, J. (2010)
Molecular approaches to studying living stromatolites,
in Advances in Stromatolite Geobiology: Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences, Springer, 131: 91-100.

Blaber, E., Marcal, H. & Burns, B.P. (2010)
Bioastronautics: The influence of microgravity on astronaut health.
Astrobiology. 10(5): 463-473.

Leuko, S., Rothschild, L. & Burns, B.P. (2010)
Halophilic archaea and the search for extinct and extant life on Mars.
Journal of Cosmology. 5: 940-950.

Leuko, S., Neilan, B.A., Burns, B.P., Walter, M.R., & et al. (2010)
Molecular Assessment of UVC Radiation-Induced DNA Damage Repair in the Stromatolitic halophilic archaeon, Halococcus hamelinensis.
Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B - Biology. 102: 140-145

Jungblut A.D.J., Allen, M.A., Burns B.P. & Neilan B.A. (2009)
Lipid biomarker analysis of cyanobacterial dominated microbial mats in meltwater ponds on the McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica.
Organic Geochem. 40: 258-269.

Burns, B.P. (2009)
Nucleotide synthesis and regulation in a human gut pathogen.
Lambert Academic Publishing, Cologne, Germany

Allen, M.A., Goh, F., Burns, B.P. & Neilan, B.A. (2009)
Bacterial, archaeal and eukaryotic diversity of smooth and pustular microbial mat communities in the hypersaline lagoon of Shark Bay.
Geobiology. 7: 82-96.

Goh, F., Allen, M.A., Leuko, S., Kawaguchi, T., Decho, A.W., Neilan, B.A. and Burns, B.P. (2009)
Determining the specific microbial populations and their spatial distribution within the stromatolite ecosystem of Shark Bay.
ISME Journal.  3: 383-96.

Leuko, S., Raftery, M., Burns, B.P., Walter, M.R., and Neilan, B.A. (2009)
Global protein-level responses of Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 to prolonged changes in external sodium chloride concentrations.
Journal of Proteome Research.  8, 2218-2225.

Burns, B.P., Anitori, R., Butterworth, P., Henneberger, R., Goh, F., Allen, M.A., Ibanez-Peral, R., Bergquist, P.L., Walter, M.R. & Neilan, B.A. (2009)
Modern analogues and the early history of microbial life.
Precambrian Research. 173: 10-18.

Burns, B., Goh, F., Allen, M.A., Walter, M.R., Sh,i R. & Neilan, B.A (2009)
Extant analogs of the microbial origins of life on Earth.
in Geomicrobiology: Biodiversity and Biotechnology, Jain, S.K. (ed), Blackwell Science Publishing: 237-254.

Moffitt, M.C. & Burns, B.P. (2009)
Hapalindoles, an emerging class of cyanobacterial natural products,    
in Handbook on Cyanobacteria: Biochemistry, Biotechnology and Applications, Nova Science Publishers, Inc., New York: 429-441.

Burns, B.P. (2009)
Understanding the origins of life on Earth.
Journal of Cosmology. 1: 60-62.

Burns, B.P., Walter, M.R. & Neilan, B.A. (2008)
in From Fossils to Astrobiology. Seckbach, J. &Walsh, M. (eds), Springer, New York: 143-158.

Allen, M.A., Goh, F., Leuko, S., Igo, A.E., Mizuki, T., Usami, R., Karnekura, M., Neilan, B.A. & Burns B.P. (2008)
Haloferax elongans sp nov and Haloterax mucosum sp nov., isolated from microbial mats from Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay, Australia
International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 58: 798-802.

Castiglioni, S., Pomati, F., Miller, K., Burns, B.P., Zuccato, E., Calamari, D. and Neilan, B.A. (2008)
Novel homologs of the multiple resistance regulator marA in antibiotic-contaminated environments.
Water Research. 42: 4271-4280

Leuko, S., Goh, F., Ibanezz-Peral, R., Burns, B.P., Walter, M.R. and Neilan, B.A. (2008)
I Lysis efficiency of standard DNA extraction methods for Halococcus spp. in an organic rich environment.
Extremophiles. 12: 301-308.

Munchhoff J, Hirose E, Maruyama T, Sunairi M, Burns BP, Neilan BA (2007)
Host specificity and phylogeography of the prochlorophyte Prochloron sp., an obligate symbiont in didemnid ascidians.
Environmental Microbiology. 2007 Apr;9(4):890-899.

Marshall CP, S Leuko, CM Coyle, MR Walter, BP Burns, BA Neilan (2007)
Carotenoid analysis of halophilic Archaea by resonance Raman Spectroscopy.
Astrobiology 7 (4),631-643.

Leuko S, F Goh, MA Allen, BP Burns, MR Walter, BA Neilan (2007)
Analysis of intergenic spacer region length polymorphisms to investigate the halophilic archaeal diversity of stromatolites and microbial mats
Extremophiles 11, 203-210.

D`Elia, M., Blanco, A., Licchelli, D., Orofino, V., et al. (2007)
Physical characterisation of biotic and abiotic minerals of exobiological interest.
Il Nuovo Cimento. 121: 833-842.

Pomati, F., Burns, B.P., Zuccato, E., Neilan, B.A., & et al. (2007)
Pharmaceuticals in Water and Their Potential Impact on Reuse.
Aquatic Toxicology Research Focus (56, 1, pp. 31 - 49). , Nova Science Publications, New York, USA.


Member for
9 years 9 months