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Steinberg, Peter David

Visiting Fellows in Sciences

Research field

Environmental change and coastal ecology, bacterial biofilm biology, environmental technology, interaction between bacteria and higher marine organisms.


Peter Steinberg is the inaugural Director and CEO of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS), Prof of Biology at The University of New South Wales, and Visiting Prof at the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He has been a Fulbright Scholar, a Queen Elizabeth II Fellow and CEO of a publically listed biotechnology company. He is on the Board of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) and the National Marine Science Committee and on the editorial boards of leading scientific journals.

He was one of the founders of the new field of marine chemical ecology, showing that herbivores of coastal seaweeds were profoundly affected by the production of defensive chemicals by the seaweeds on which they fed. Then he shifted to focus on chemically mediated interactions between seaweed and marine bacteria (including pathogens). Together with microbiologists, he showed that these compounds acted in a unique way, by interfering with bacterial cell-cell communication, or quorum sensing. This applied findings led to the exploration of novel (non-biocidal) antibacterials, an activity which was initially captured within a start-up biotechnology company before being acquired by Unilever who are exploring applications of the technology in a variety of domestic and industrial applications. The study of this interaction between bacteria and higher marine organisms, together with the revolution in environmental gene sequencing technologies (‘omics), led to an ongoing focus on “ macro-micro” interactions, where he has been a leader in merging the historically disparate fields of environmental microbiology and coastal ecology. In the last ten years, much of his research has focused on the impacts of environmental change in coastal systems, and how to build resilience into these systems.

He has led restoration projects of underwater kelp forests on scales of 10’s of kilometres, and contributed to a variety of approaches to “green” engineering for marine infrastructure. This work has been done in a broad societal context, incorporating art, community engagement, and citizen science in order to build strong government and community support for the sustainable use of coastal environments.

Structure Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation (Director and CEO, Sydney Institute of Marine Science; Professor School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences)

University of New South Wales

Sydney,  Australia