Research Program Leader: Assoc. Professor Spas Kolev

Contact Details: School of Chemistry, The University of Melbourne, Parkville Vic 3052

My research is focused on the development and study of:

  • Automated on-line methods and chemical sensors for environmental monitoring of both metallic (e.g. Hg, As, Sb, Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd) and non-metallic (e.g. cyanide, phenols, ammonia) pollutants in natural waters and industrial and domestic wastewaters. The majority of these methods have been implemented in flow analysis systems (e.g. flow injection and sequential injection analysis systems) which can be converted into portable field analyzers for on-site monitoring. Highly sensitive optical chemical sensors for some of the pollutants mentioned above have been also developed and implemented in on-line analyzers.
  • Batch analytical methods for the qualitative and quantitative analysis of solid (e.g. soil, sediment, biosolids, plant material) and liquid samples.
  • Novel polymeric extracting materials (polymer inclusion membranes) which are suitable for clean-up of contaminated waters and for passive sampling of waters, soil and sediments.

Industry Involvement:

I have extensive collaborative research programmes with:

  • Melbourne Water on the fate and remediation of mercury in biosolids.
  • Stawell Gold Mines (Northgate Corp.) and Native Seeds Pty. Ltd. on the development of novel approaches to ecologically sustainable and safe rehabilitation of gold mine tailings.
  • Stawell Gold Mines (Northgate Corp.) on the applicaion of polymer inclusion memebranes for the removal of thiocyanate and cyanide from gold ore processing wastewtares within the framework of an ARC Linkage Project LP0989449 (2009-2011)
  • Pyrenees Shire, DoubleE-Enviroclean Pty. Ltd., EPA Victoria and the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain) on the development of phytoextraction approaches to mitigating heavy metal release from unlined and loosely capped rural landfills (ARC Linkage Project; LP100100800; 2010-2012).

Novel Chemistry program objectives:

  • To develop and characterise novel passive samplers for water and sediment monitoring of pollutants based on polymer inclusion extracting materials.
  • To develop flow injection analysis methods for the on-line monitoring and analysis of selected pollutants of interest (e.g. arsenic, mercury) and compare this active sampling technology with passive sampling under laboratory and field conditions.
  • The passive and active sampling devices, developed after consultation with the other research teams in CAPIM, will be applied to both freshwater and estuarine systems.


Research Leader: Professor Dayanthi Nugegoda

Contact Details:  School of Applied Sciences, RMIT University, PO Box 71, Bundoora, Vic 3083

My research in ecotoxicology and ecophysiology has an emphasis on the effects of stressors on aquatic fauna. We develop and run a suite of bioassays using Australian test organisms and use the OECD and ASTM guidelines for standard toxicity testing. We also develop novel methods for rapid assessment and bioassays for effluents and emerging chemicals to evaluate their toxicity and environmental risk.

Industry involvement:

Molecular responses of the Rainbow fishexposed to estrogenic chemicals (CSIRO)
Endocrine disrupting chemicals in waterways using fish as bioindicators (Melbourne Water, EDC special interest group of the Australasian Society of Ecotoxicology)
The impact of sewage overflows on the environment and human health (City West Water)
Hormones and Vitellogenin in fish reproduction (Fisheries Victoria)
The effect of pesticides on early life stages of fish (G-MW)
A risk assessment for nodularin toxin in seafood from the Gippsland Lakes (DHS, DPI) Development of in vitro assays using cell lines to evaluate toxicity and activity of micropollutants in aquatic systems.(Flinders University, Helmholtz Centrum Germany)
The toxicity of leachates containing trace metals from industrial sites.(EPA)
Toxicity evaluation of rainwater and recycled water (NMIT, DPI, Aquaculture industry).
Trace metals in the Strickland River, PNG (CSIRO, Porgera mine, Hydrobiology)

Freshwater EDC Research Objective:

To establish, develop and validate (through cross-theme and inter-agency collaboration) new methods for evaluating evidence of Endocrine disrupting chemicals in Victorian waterways using freshwater fishSpecific objectives are to:

  • Identify a suitable freshwater fish species for biomonitoring EDCs.
  • Identify endpoints based on laboratory exposure of the species to known EDCs.
  • Undertake Laboratory Testing, exposing fish to water, water + sediment from selected “contaminated” sites to identify EDC’s and the effects on fish populations.
  • Sample the selected species in Freshwater Sites, (Clean, Urban, Rural, Industrial) and evaluate if there is evidence of exposure to EDCs in Victorian freshwaters.


 Biomarkers Program Leader Prof Ary Hoffmann FAA, Laureate Fellow
Contact Details: Hoffmann Laboratory, The University of Melbourne, Bio 21 Institute, Parkville, Vic 3052

My group develops methods for the early and unambiguous detection and monitoring of environmental stress. We focus on pollution stress as well as climatic stresses arising from climate change. We use insects and other invertebrates. Our group combines pure research with applied efforts aimed at solving environmental and pest problems at a very practical level. Our CAPIM program will  innovative ways of using genes, proteins and insects to monitor pollution and other stresses, and we are more broadly developing new markers to assess the ability of organisms to cope with stressful conditions, and new applied monitoring techniques within a landscape context.

Industry Involvement:

We work closely with Melbourne Water in developing new methods for aquatic pollution detection. This has included the application of a microcosm method for testing the impact of sediment pollution in environmental degradation, a new in situ method for assessing pollutants within the context of local indigenous fauna, and new DNA based methods for identifying chironomids. These techniques have been used in projects with other industry bodies including water management agencies, local councils and the wine industry. We are funded through Melbourne Water, the Commonwealth Environmental Research Fund (CERF), ARC Linkage with partners including DSE, and agricultural funders such as GRDC. We have developed an industry consultant group (CESAR Consultants) and interact with government though participation in science advisory groups.

Biomarker Program Objectives:

  • To develop biomarkers in macroinvertebrates from estuarine and freshwater environments exposed to pollutants (including pesticides, metals and veterinary medicines)
  • To produce a matrix of biomarker responses for Australian species following exposure to contaminants.
  • To integrate macroinvertebrate biomarkers into biomonitoring programs.


What are Biomarkers?

Definition: Biological variations in the tissue or body fluids or at the level of whole organism that provide evidence of exposure to chemical pollutants, and may also indicate a toxic effect.  Biomarkers can be biochemical, molecular, physiological, behavioural and whole organism changes. Biomarkers have potential application in assessing impacts on, or monitoring the condition of, living organisms, because they can provide evidence of exposure to chemicals (both individual compounds and mixtures of compounds), exposure to other stresses (such as salinity and change in temperature) and/or an early warning of ecological impacts. CAPIM will initially focus on biochemical biomarkers, specifically proteins and gene expression.


The advantages of Biomarkers

  • Bioavailability

    Changes in biological responses of an organism following exposure to chemicals demonstrate that the chemical has been taken up by the organism and is having an effect on the biological functioning of that organism. Carrying out chemical analyses alone only demonstrates that chemicals are present in the organism but they may not be having an effect. Some chemicals are quickly metabolised and eliminated from the body, so measuring the concentration of the chemical may not accurately illustrate the extent to which exposure has occurred whereas the biomarker response may be elevated for a longer time period and measuring the response may be more reliable in demonstrating exposure has occurred.

  • Measure of the effects of single and mixtures of chemicals

    Biomarkers respond to chemicals present in the organism and so whether there is only one chemical or a number of different chemicals biomarkers provide a measure of chemical exposure. Biomarkers may also be able to demonstrate whether combinations of chemicals are more or less toxic than exposure to the single chemical.

  • Mechanisms of toxicity/mode of action of a chemical

    Some biomarkers can demonstrate the mechanism of toxicity, for example the novel approaches such as looking at changes at the genome or protein level. We will be able to determine the target sites in the body for the chemicals, for example some chemicals may target genes or proteins that are responsible for maintaining energy or adverse effects on the nervous system. This will help in predicting adverse effects of chemicals with the same mode of action.

  • Predictive tool that could trigger further study of a site

    Biomarkers have the potential to demonstrate that a site is in an unfavourable condition, for example there may be an increase in enzyme activity in organisms which is only elevated when there are chemicals present and there is no increase in activity in organisms at the reference site. They can be used as a rapid, cost-effective screening tool to demonstrate this at a number of sites. Following this, more detailed, focussed monitoring would then be carried out, which may include chemical-specific biomarker measurements, chemical analysis and community-level analysis, to determine what the stress is and what is causing the stress. This would help inform decision makers regarding the course of remedial action to be followed.

  • Show the effectiveness of remedial action

    Once a site has been earmarked as being impacted and remedial action agreed and implemented, subsequent integrated biomonitoring studies (which should include biomarker measurements, chemical analyses and community level responses) would be carried out at that site over time. If remedial action was being effective the monitoring tools would show the site returning to a more healthy condition. Conversely the biomonitoring schemes could also demonstrate that the site was still impacted and that the remedial action was not effective. The Biomarker Program is closely integrated with the Freshwater, Estuarine and EDC Research Groups in the CAPIM centre.


Research Leader Professor Mick Keough
Contact Details:  Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Vic 3010

My research involves assessing combined effects of coastal stressors, particularly nutrients and toxicants, I Design of environmental monitoring programs, and am involved in analysis of the impacts of invasive species in coastal ecosystems

Industry Involvement:

  • Collaboration with Derwent Estuary Program and Norske-Skog (multinational, pulp & paper industry) to examine impacts of toxicants, nutrients, and pest species in Derwent Estuary. Second Aim of project is to measure improvements ot estuarine health associated with changes to effluent stream of Norske Skog.
  • Sydney Water. Member of Independent Expert Group advising Sydney Water on conduct of environmental studies associated with Sydney Desalination Project.
  • Victorian Desalination Project. Member, Independent Experts Group advising Victorian government on conduct of marine environmental studies.
  • Channel Deepening Project. Member, Independent Experts Group advising Victorian government on conduct of marine environmental studies.
  • Victorian Coastal Council. Advisory body responsible for Victorian Coastal Strategy.

Estuarine Research Objective

  • Develop new measures of individual health for estuarine animals
  • Adapt marine field mesocosm techniques, currently used for examining effects of pollutants and nutrients, for use in estuaries
  • Use these new techniques in assessments of demonstration estuaries
  • Combine biological tools and new passive samplers to identify effects of individual pollutants
  • Use new measures of individual health and existing expertise in measuring connectivity to determine risks of single-estuary impacts extending beyond estuary boundaries.

Estuarine Heavy Metals and EDC’s

Research Leader Associate Professor Steve Swearer
Contact Details:Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne 3010 Victoria

A major focus of my research is investigating the chronological records of trace element and heavy metal incorporation into fish ear bones (otoliths). Dr Nicole Barbee and I are applying such chronologies of chemical exposure history to reconstruct movement patterns in mobile fish species (and therefore exposure risk to pollutants) as well as reconstructing the timing and magnitude of heavy metal pollutant events from the chronologies recorded in sedentary species.

More recently, Dr Kathryn Hassell and I have initiated a research program into the effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) on estuarine fish development, growth, and reproduction using a range of biomarkers. Our research is focusing on the knock-on effects of EDC exposure during embryonic development and the impacts of EDCs on gonad development, sex allocation and social and mating behaviour in estuarine fish.

Industry Involvement:

  • Collaboration with DPI (Fisheries Victoria, MAFFRI) and DSE (ARI) to investigate the impacts of environmental flows in estuaries on the early life history and fisheries productivity of Black Bream in the Gippsland Lakes
  • Collaboration with DPI (Fisheries Victoria, MAFFRI) to investigate links between nutrient inputs, ocean productivity, and larval growth and survival of Snapper.
  • Melbourne Water Corporation. Research project to assess impacts of rock walls on estuarine fish assemblages and the potential for restoration of riparian vegetation to improve estuarine fish populations.
  • Victorian Coastal Council. Advisory body responsible for Victorian Coastal Strategy.
  • Phillip Island Nature Park. Member of the Scientific Research Advisory Committee.

Estuarine Heavy Metals and EDC Research Objectives: To establish, develop and validate (through cross-theme and inter-agency collaboration) new methods for detecting and managing effects of pollutants in Victoria’s estuaries. Specific objectives are to:

  • Ascertain the utility of galaxiid embryonic development as a biomarker of estuarine sediment toxicity.
  • Validate whether embryonic otolith core chemistry provides an elemental fingerprint of particular polluted estuaries which could be used to assess latent sublethal effects of embryonic pollution exposure.
  • Explore the ecotoxicological impacts on metapopulation dynamics through the impacts of pollutants on the process of larval dispersal and population connectivity.
  • Evaluate whether chemical chronologies stored in fish otoliths are accurate recorders of pollution exposure history.
  • Develop the eastern bluespot goby as a bioindicator species of EDCs in estuaries.
  • Assess effects of EDCs on early developmental stages of black bream.
  • Determine if intersex gonads in black bream are a result of EDC exposure or natural sex change. Evaluate whether chemical chronologies stored in fish otoliths are accurate recorders of pollution exposure history.


Research Leader:  Dr Graeme Allinson 
Principal Research Scientist, DPI, environmental chemist (with expertise in pollution detection)
Contact Details:  Future Farming Systems Research Division, DPI Queenscliff Centre, 2A Bellarine, Highway, Queenscliff 3225


Dr Allinson leads DPI Future Farming Systems Research Division agrochemicals research group– a 5 year, ~$3.5 million program developing and validating new tools for water quality (pesticide, EDC) monitoring (such as LC-MS/MS methods for pesticdes in passive samplers; the yeast two hybrid assay for determination of hormonal activity of natural and wastewaters; ELISA for rapid screening for specific pesticides; calibrating passive samplers), and using current generation passive samplers, biological assays, ELISA, GC-MS/MS/MS, LC-MS/MS, and standard HPLC and GC chemical analytical methods to assess pesticide contamination in Victorian aquatic ecosystems.

Industry Involvement:

Current projects with key CAPIM end users, e.g. Biosecurity Victoria Chemical Standards Branch (developing pesticide risk management strategies; new methods for polar pesticides such as 2,4-D); Melbourne Water (pesticide residue surveys; pesticide residue method development; EDC surveys); Goulburn Murray Water (use of passive samplers to assess trace metal contamination of water supplies); North Central CMA (assessing metal contamination of Upper Lodden and Campaspe rivers); Gippsland Water/West Gippsland CMA (pesticide residues, pilot surveys); Victorian Water Trust (hormones in treated sewage); dairy industry (Dr Allinson was manager of the ‘Closing the Loop’ project (2005-2007) and is currently working with Warrnambool Cheese & Butter Company on wastewater-related research); DHS (developing new chemical analytical methods for algal toxins); international partners (e.g. Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies) developing new methods for current, new and emerging organic micro-contaminants.

Emerging Micropollutants Program Objectives:

To establish, develop and validate (through cross-theme and inter-agency collaboration) new methods for detecting current and emerging organic micro-contaminants in Victoria’s waters (including natural water ways, recycled and other wastewaters)

  • This component will first validate new methods for detecting hormonal activity in effluents and natural waters.
  • The program then focuses on development and testing of new methods for assessment of herbicide and organic pollutant effects.
  • Techniques for organic micropollutants will be field tested at some of the core sites being used in the freshwater identification program and at estuarine sites