Associate Professor Michelle Moffitt

Associate Professor Michelle Moffitt

Associate Professor,
Life Sciences


Associate Professor Michelle Moffitt is a microbiologist, specialising in the study of pathogenic microbes in living organisms and how to treat them. She completed a Bachelor of Advanced Science and PhD in Microbiology in 2003 at the University of New South Wales and then spent three years as a research associate in the United States at the University of Arizona and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. She came to Western Sydney University in 2006 as a lecturer in Microbiology. She teaches second year Microbiology and third year Molecular Biotechnology.

Michelle’s PhD focused on toxic cyanobacteria, similar to those in Warragamba Dam and other waterways. She was able to identify genes responsible for making the toxin and the genes are now important in the detection of cyanobacteria blooms. While in the US, Michelle was involved in the development of an enzyme-based drug to treat phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disease which prevents the body from breaking down the amino acid phenylalanine. The drug is now FDA approved and used in practice.  

She is currently studying a new plant pathogen called myrtle rust, which causes disease in trees and shrubs belonging to the family Myrtaceae- including over 1,500 Australian native plant species. She is particularly focused on finding fungi that can attack myrtle rust, to be used to treat infected plants. She is also studying the chemical profiles of rust resistant plants to identify properties that may be missing from those that are susceptible. 


This information has been contributed by Associate Professor Moffitt.


  • PhD University of New South Wales
  • BSc University of New South Wales

Professional Memberships

  • Australian Plant Biosecurity Science Foundation (2021 - 2023)
  • Australasian Mycology Society (2023 - 2023)
  • Australian Society for Microbiology (2021 - 2023)

Organisational Unit (School / Division)

  • Life Sciences


Phone: (02) 4620 3521
(02) 4620 3521
Location: 21.1.06

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Chapters in Books

  • Black, D., Bak, T., Dodson, J., Hasan, M., Moffitt, M., Rahman, K. and Nowotny, J. (2018), 'Environmentally clean energy', Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, Elsevier 9780124095489.
  • D'Agostino, P., Moffitt, M. and Neilan, B. (2014), 'Current knowledge of paralytic shellfish toxin biosynthesis, molecular detection and evolution', Toxins and Biologically Active Compounds from Microalgae. Vol. 1, Origin, Chemistry and Detection, CRC Press 9781482210682.
  • Neilan, B., Pearson, L., Moffitt, M., Kaebernick, M., Mihali, T. and Kellmann, R. (2008), 'The genetics and genomics of cyanobacterial toxicity', Cyanobacterial harmful Algal Blooms: State of the Science and Research Needs, Springer New York 9780387758640.

Journal Articles

  • Moffitt, M., Wong-Bajracharya, J., Shuey, L., Park, R., Pegg, G. and Plett, J. (2022), 'Both constitutive and infection-responsive secondary metabolites linked to resistance against Austropuccinia psidii (myrtle rust) in Melaleuca quinquenervia', Microorganisms, vol 10, no 2 .
  • Wilson, A., Cuddy, W., Park, R., Harm, G., Priest, M., Bailey, J. and Moffitt, M. (2020), 'Investigating hyperparasites as potential biological control agents of rust pathogens on cereal crops', Australasian Plant Pathology, vol 49 , pp 231 - 238.
  • D'Agostino, P., Al-Sinawi, B., Mazmouz, R., Muenchhoff, J., Neilan, B. and Moffitt, M. (2020), 'Identification of promoter elements in the Dolichospermum circinale AWQC131C saxitoxin gene cluster and the experimental analysis of their use for heterologous expression', BMC Microbiology, vol 20, no 1 .
  • Rahman, K., Sharma, N., Atanacio, A., Bak, T., Wachsman, E., Moffitt, M. and Nowotny, J. (2019), 'Chromium segregation in Cr-doped TiO2 (rutile) : impact of oxygen activity', Ionics, vol 25, no 7 , pp 3363 - 3372.
  • Harm, G., Papanicolaou, A., Cuddy, W., Park, R. and Moffitt, M. (2018), 'Draft genome sequence of the fungus Lecanicillium psalliotae strain HWLR35, isolated from a wheat leaf infected with leaf rust (caused by Puccinia triticina)', Genome Announcements, vol 6, no 2 .
  • D'Agostino, P., Song, X., Neilan, B. and Moffitt, M. (2016), 'Proteogenomics of a saxitoxin-producing and non-toxic strain of Anabaena circinalis (cyanobacteria) in response to extracellular NaCl and phosphate depletion', Environmental Microbiology, vol 18, no 2 , pp 461 - 476.
  • D'Agostino, P., Woodhouse, J., Makower, A., Yeung, A., Ongley, S., Micallef, M., Moffitt, M. and Neilan, B. (2016), 'Advances in genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics of toxin-producing cyanobacteria', Environmental Microbiology Reports, vol 8, no 1 , pp 3 - 13.
  • Micallef, M., D'Agostino, P., Al-Sinawi, B., Neilan, B. and Moffitt, M. (2015), 'Exploring cyanobacterial genomes for natural product biosynthesis pathways', Marine Genomics, .
  • Micallef, M., D'Agostino, P., Sharma, D., Viswanathan, R. and Moffitt, M. (2015), 'Genome mining for natural product biosynthetic gene clusters in the Subsection V cyanobacteria', BMC Genomics, vol 16, no 1 .
  • Cronin, L., Moffitt, M., Mawad, D., Morton, O., Lauto, A. and Stack, C. (2014), 'An in vitro study of the photodynamic effect of rose bengal on Trichophyton rubrum.', Journal of Biophotonics, vol 7, no 6 , pp 410 - 417.
  • Cronin, L., Mildern, R., Moffitt, M., Lauto, A., Morton, O. and Stack, C. (2014), 'An investigation into the inhibitory effect of ultraviolet radiation on Trichophyton rubrum', Lasers in Medical Science, vol 29, no 1 , pp 157 - 163.
  • D'Agostino, P., Song, X., Neilan, B. and Moffitt, M. (2014), 'Comparative proteomics reveals that a saxitoxin-producing and a nontoxic strain of Anabaena circinalis are two different ecotypes', Journal of Proteome Research, vol 13, no 3 , pp 1474 - 1484.
  • Belshaw, D., Moffitt, M. and Truman, G. (2014), 'Cyanobacteria : health and research possibilities', NSW Public Health Bulletin, vol 24, no 4 , pp 178 - 179.
  • Micallef, M., Sharma, D., Bunn, B., Gerwick, L., Viswanathan, R. and Moffitt, M. (2014), 'Comparative analysis of hapalindole, ambiguine and welwitindolinone gene clusters and reconstitution of indole-isonitrile biosynthesis from cyanobacteria', BMC Microbiology, vol 14, no 213 .
  • Wu, M., Bak, T., O'Doherty, P., Moffitt, M., Nowotny, J., Bailey, T. and Kersaitis, C. (2014), 'Photocatalysis of titanium dioxide for water disinfection : challenges and future perspectives', International Journal of Photochemistry, vol 2014 .
  • Neilan, B., Pearson, L., Muenchhoff, J., Moffitt, M. and Dittmann, E. (2013), 'Environmental conditions that influence toxin biosynthesis in cyanobacteria', Environmental Microbiology, vol 15, no 5 , pp 1239 - 1253.
  • Gehringer, M., Adler, L., Roberts, A., Moffitt, M., Mihali, T., Mills, T., Fieker, C. and Neilan, B. (2012), 'Nodularin, a cyanobacterial toxin, is synthesized in planta by symbiotic Nostoc sp.', The ISME journal, vol 6, no 10 , pp 1834 - 1847.
  • Pearson, L., Mihali, T., Moffitt, M., Kellmann, R. and Neilan, B. (2010), 'On the chemistry, toxicology and genetics of the cyanobacterial toxins, microcystin, nodularin, saxitoxin and cylindrospermopsin', Marine Drugs, vol 8, no 5 , pp 1650 - 1680.
  • Wiese, M., D'Agostino, P., Mihali, T., Moffitt, M. and Neilan, B. (2010), 'Neurotoxic alkaloids : saxitoxin and its analogs', Marine Drugs, vol 8, no 7 , pp 2185 - 2211.
  • Pearson, L., Moffitt, M., Ginn, H. and Neilan, B. (2008), 'The molecular genetics and regulation of cyanobacterial peptide hepatotoxin biosynthesis', Critical Reviews in Toxicology, vol 38, no 10 , pp 847 - 856.
  • Winter, J., Moffitt, M., Zazopoulos, E., Mcalpine, J., Dorrestein, P. and Moore, B. (2007), 'Molecular basis for chloronium-mediated meroterpene cyclization: cloning, sequencing, and heterologous expression of the napyradiomycin biosynthetic gene cluster', Journal of Biological Chemistry, vol 282, no 22 , pp 16362 - 16368.
  • Moffitt, M., Louie, G., Bowman, M., Pence, J., Noel, J. and Moore, B. (2007), 'Discovery of two cyanobacterial phenylalanine ammonia lyases: kinetic and structural characterization.', Biochemistry-US, vol 46, no 4 , pp 1004 - 1012.
  • Hicks, L., Moffitt, M., Beer, L., Moore, B. and Kelleher, N. (2006), 'Structural characterization of in vitro and in vivo intermediates on the loading module of microcystin synthetase', A C S Chemical Biology, vol 1, no 2 , pp 93 - 102.
  • Louie, G., Bowman, M., Moffitt, M., Baiga, T., Moore, B. and Noel, J. (2006), 'Structural determinants and modulation of substrate specificity in phenylalanine-tyrosine ammonia-lyases', Chemistry and Biology, vol 13, no 12 , pp 1327 - 1338.
  • Burns, B., Saker, M., Moffitt, M. and Neilan, B. (2004), 'Molecular detection of genes responsible for cyanobacterial toxin production in the genera Microcystis, Nodularia, and Cylindrospermopsis', Methods in Molecular Biology, vol 268 , pp 213 - 222.
  • Pomati, F., Moffitt, M., Cavaliere, R. and Neilan, B. (2004), 'Evidence for differences in the metabolism of saxitoxin and C1+2 toxins in the freshwater cyanobacterium Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii T3', Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - General subjects, vol 1674, no 1 , pp 60 - 67.
  • Toh, M., Moffitt, M., Henrichsen, L., Raferty, M., Barrow, K., Cox, J., Marquis, C. and Neilan, B. (2004), 'Cereulide, the emetic toxin of Bacillus cereus, is putatively a product of nonribosomal peptide synthesis', Journal of Applied Microbiology, vol 97, no 5 , pp 992 - 1000.
  • Moffitt, M. and Neilan, B. (2004), 'Characterization of the nodularin synthetase gene cluster and proposed theory of the evolution of cyanobacterial hepatotoxins', Applied and Environmental Microbiology, vol 70, no 11 , pp 6353 - 6362.
  • Moffitt, M. and Neilan, B. (2003), 'Evolutionary affiliations within the superfamily of ketosynthases reflect complex pathway associations', Journal of Molecular Evolution, vol 56, no 4 , pp 446 - 457.
  • Feitz, A., Lukondeh, T., Moffitt, M., Burns, B., Naidoo, D., Della Vedova, J., Gooden, J. and Neilan, B. (2002), 'Absence of detectable levels of the cyanobacterial toxin (microcystin-LR) carry-over into milk', Toxicon, vol 40, no 8 , pp 1173 - 1180.
  • Moffitt, M., Blackburn, S. and Neilan, B. (2001), 'rRNA sequences reflect the ecophysiology and define the toxic cyanobacteria of the genus Nodularia', International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, vol 51, no 2 , pp 505 - 512.
  • Moffitt, M. and Neilan, B. (2001), 'On the presence of peptide synthetase and polyketide synthase genes in the cyanobacterial genus Nodularia', FEMS Microbiology Letters, vol 196, no 2 , pp 207 - 214.

It’s the stuff of books and movies and entire TV shows. Hours and hours have been spent by children, and some of us a little past childhood, poring over fantastical maps and studying the minute details of lore. And it’s right under our noses.

Associate Professor Michelle Moffitt has spent the last 25 years immersed in a world known only to a few people and only visible under a microscope. She specialises in microbiology, the study of tiny living organisms that have monumental impacts on the world around them. From fighting plant rust and pathogenic gut bacteria to treating life threatening genetic conditions and toxic cyanobacteria blooms, small but mighty work is being done by these organisms every day.

One of the major projects being done by Michelle and her team is the fight to identify a rescue remedy for over 2,000 native trees and shrubs under attack from a relatively new disease called myrtle rust. The pathogen, first found in 2010, affects plants in the myrtaceae (myrtle) family, including eucalypts, paperbarks, bottlebrushes, and the common lilly pilly. This is a huge percentage of Australian flora and could have potentially catastrophic consequences left unchecked.

Professor Moffitt came to the project through an interest in fungi that attacks different types of plant rust. She is now on the hunt for a fungus that will be effective against myrtle rust. They are also investigating the chemical profiles of plants that have been able to resist the fungus. The hope is that they will be able to discover exactly what it is that makes them resistant and why it may be missing from the plants that have been susceptible. In areas that have been affected, it may then be possible to replant with healthy flora that won’t be taken down by the rust. She says, "[We’re] trying to understand if there’s something that might make the plants naturally resistant."

In contrast to her work with plants, she is also working with her students to see how mushroom juice impacts microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. It is still early days, but they have seen evidence that the mushroom juice can inhibit the growth of pathogens and promote the growth of good bacteria. This could be especially impactful for sufferers of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. People who have the disease often have a higher proportion of pathogenic bacteria in their gut and a lack of diversity in the good bacteria, which causes their symptoms. Professor Moffitt explains "If you can increase the diversity of good bacteria, you can relieve some of those symptoms."

It's diverse work but the basis remains the same; finding the right organism to inhibit the growth of another. It’s a world that most people never get to see, and one that Professor Moffitt loves. "It’s kind of like this little world that you don’t see, and you don’t know it’s there but it’s making a big impact… It’s appreciating that they (the organisms) are doing all these little jobs that we just don’t know about. Who would’ve thought that you could drink mushroom juice and then inside your gut there’s a little war going on where some of them [sic] are dying and some of them are thriving? Or just on the surface of a leaf there’s all these different microbes and some of them are causing disease and some of them are trying to help the plant and you just don’t see it."

Michelle Moffitt is Associate Professor of Microbiology at Western Sydney’s School of Science.   

This information has been contributed by Associate Professor Moffitt.

Previous Projects

Title: Natural product genes in cyanobacteria: From microbial genetics to biotechnological applications
  • University of Western Sydney
Western Researchers: Michelle Moffitt
Years: 2007-12-10 - 2009-06-30
ID: P0015934
Title: Characterising Genes For The Biosynthesis Of Isoprenoid-Isonitrile Alkaloids In Microorganisms
  • University of Western Sydney
Western Researchers: Michelle Moffitt
Years: 2006-09-30 - 2007-11-15
ID: P0015261
Title: Polyketides as the conserved basis for diverse marine toxin biosyntheses [via UNSW]
  • Australian Research Council (ACRG)
Western Researchers: Michelle Moffitt
Years: 2008-02-11 - 2011-02-10
ID: P0015529
Title: Indigenous artistic and linguistic interpretation of myrtle rust and it's impacts for community awareness
  • Australian Plant Biosecurity Science Foundation (APBSF Ltd)
Western Researchers: Mark Temple and Michelle Moffitt
Years: 2022-02-01 - 2024-03-31
ID: P00027736
Title: Establishment of a mass spectrometer facility for natural products and proteomics research and teaching at the College of Health and Science within the University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown campus
  • University of Western Sydney
Western Researchers: Nikolaus Sucher, Jens Coorssen, Bill Price, Gerald Muench, Andrew Shalliker, Dennis Chang, Sabine Piller, Simon Myers, Colin Stack and Michelle Moffitt
Years: 2008-09-24 - 2010-09-15
ID: P00016326
Title: Dispersal of rodents and their role in transmission of bacterial pathogens between piggeries
  • Pork CRC Ltd
Western Researchers: Michelle Moffitt and Colin Stack
Years: 2008-07-01 - 2008-12-31
ID: P00016469
Title: Using metabolites as biomarkers for the identification of innate resistance to myrtle rust
  • Australian Plant Biosecurity Science Foundation (APBSF Ltd)
Western Researchers: Michelle Moffitt and Jonathan Plett
Years: 2021-01-01 - 2022-08-31
ID: P00026872


Associate Professor Moffitt is available to be a principal supervisor for doctoral projects

Current Supervision

Thesis Title: Investigation of foliar hyperparasites as biocontrol agents of rust fungi and the identification of their novel secondary metabolites
Field of Research:

Previous Supervision

Thesis Title: Exploration of Australia's unique microbial diversity naturally capable to produce bioactive metabolites and protect endangered Myrtaceae trees from Myrtle rust
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Exploration of the Red Algae for Potential Inhibitors Against eLtaS of Staphylococcus Aureus Implicated in Elevating Diabetes Mellitus
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Investigation of foliar hyperparasites as biocontrol agents of rust fungi and the identification of their novel secondary metabolites
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Metabolomics to Detect and Breed Myrtle Disease Resistant Plants
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Metagenomic, Metatranscriptomic and Metabolomic Analysis of Microbial Communities in Kombucha and Their Probiotic Potentials
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Foliar Hyperparasites of Rust Fungi and the Genome Mining of Novel Secondary Metabolites
Field of Research: Pest And Weed Control; Organic Chemistry; Genetics
Thesis Title: Increasing Prevalence of Drug Resistance Across Species and the Impact It Has on Human Health
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Investigating the Extent of Resistance Properties of Fungi Against Immune Cells
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Polymicrobial Biofilms and Bactericidal Interactions Between Bacteria and Fungi
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Characterisation of Biosynthetic Gene Clusters within Cyanobacteria
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Investigation of Mushroom Juice as a Gut Microbiota Modulator
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Phenolic Production and Gut Microbial Interactions of Kombucha Effected by Citrus Additives
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: Molecular Investigations of a Saxitoxin-Producing Strain and a Non-Toxic Strain of Anabaena Circinalis
Field of Research: Microbiology; Biochemistry And Cell Biology
Thesis Title: Identification and Characterisation of Biosynthetic Gene Clusters from Subsection V Cyanobacteria
Field of Research: Microbiology; Other Natural And Physical Sciences; Genetics
Thesis Title: Foliar Hyperparasites of Rust Fungi and the Genome Mining of Novel Secondary Metabolites
Field of Research: Other Natural And Physical Sciences; Pest And Weed Control; Organic Chemistry; Genetics

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