Dr Diane Purcell

Diane is a phycologist who has worked in both fundamental and applied algal research in numerous environments from freshwater lakes to high altitude rocks in Tibet. Her research uses new biotechnologies to explore the emerging field of algal bioproducts. Diane’s previous projects included working in Yellowstone National Park in hot-spring run-off streams algal species, phytoplankton

Diane on field work seeding seaweed cultivation lines in Mulroy Bay, in County Donegal, Ireland, October 2022 during her Marie-Curie Fellowship.

research cruises to Spain, the Mid-Atlantic ridge, Iceland and in Australia from Darwin Harbour to the Gulf of Carpentaria. For her PhD she worked for the water industry in the UK controlling algal blooms using green energy in the form of ultrasound. Before joining CSIRO, she completed a Marie-Curie Fellowship in Europe, optimising both cultivation and extraction of algal bioproducts from two brown seaweeds including the giant kelp. 

Her project aims to create a streamlined algal characterisation methodological pathway to explore bioproducts and their applications using the Australian National Algal Culture Collection ANACC

Why choose a career in science?

Growing up in Ireland and working with my Dad who was a vet I was never far from animals or collecting samples. So, I began with a Zoology bachelor’s degree which led me to a placement year at  a microbial ecology laboratory at Imperial College in London, where I really began my research career in algae. In this laboratory, I had the opportunity to work within group investigating diurnal cycles in freshwater algae, after a year in that lab I was hooked on algae. Since then, I have worked on numerous aspects of algal research in a wide range of ecosystems. The dynamic nature of adaptation that these primary producers employ to survive I find a constant source of discovery.

What is exciting about your project?

What I think is most exciting about my project is the exploration potential to unlock new algal bioproducts from the wide diversity of species held within our collection here at CSIRO. Australian biodiversity is vast, and I would like to extend our collection to include new species of microalgae with my personal interest in extremophile and tropical species as well as increasing our seaweed collection. Bioproducts from algae are being explored around the world as this industry is growing rapidly, and discovering new uses of these species in the functional food and nutraceutical and cosmeceutical industries is key to harnessing this continued growth especially in Australia where this industry is still just emerging. My project aims to provide a set of species, potential bioproducts and applications which the Australian Algal Industry can utilise to produce commercially viable native algal bioproducts, completing the journey from “algae to fork” contributing to improved health outcomes from the Australian public.

Diane on her boat “ Kindred spirit” a Mottle 33 in Hobart, Tasmania.

What are my other interests?

I enjoy working in the outreach with my background  also including teaching I really enjoy working with schools on science questions and student projects, and also other activities where I get to engage directly with the public, in Hobart. When I’m not at work I love the water and swimming, surfing, diving and sailing, including racing sail boats, I just moved onto my boat, so I’m getting into boat maintenance now too!