Elizabeth Heather Jakobsen Neilson – University of Copenhagen

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Center for Synthetic Biology > Meet the Researchers > Elizabeth Heather Jako...

Elizabeth Heather Jakobsen Neilson

 Assistant professor

Section for Plant Biochemistry

Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Faculty for Science


I completed my PhD at The University of Melbourne studying the regulation of cyanogenic glucoside synthesis in Eucalyptus. Following this, I was offered a postdoc position with Assoc. Prof. Ros Gleadow at Monash University which allowed me to dive into the exciting new realm of plant phenomics, specifically using high-throughput imaging technology to investigate phenotypic changes in sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) in response to abiotic stress. Due to the ongoing international collaboration between Monash University and the Plant Biochemistry Group here in Copenhagen, I was able to bring our phenomic work with me to Denmark when I was offered a Villum Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and this work is ongoing.
Receiving a Carlsberg Foundation Postdoctoral position in December 2013 allowed me to pursue my first scientific love, the eucalypt. Eucalypts produce a complex suite of toxic compounds including terpenoids, cyanogenic glucosides and phenolics. Despite their toxic leaf composition and tough, fibrous nature, eucalypts dominate the Australian landscape and fed upon by many different species, including the iconic koala. We are exploring the synthesis and regulation of different toxic metabolites (including cyanogenic glucosides, phenolics and terpenoids) and investigating how environmental and developmental change impacts eucalypt chemistry.
Working at the Plant Biochemistry Lab has also given me the unique opportunity to investigate how environmental conditions may alter the intricate relationship between plant, animal and microbe.  For this project we are researching the koala, its eucalypt food tree and its microbiome in collaboration with scientists from Australia (Melbourne University, Australian National University, University of Greater Western Sydney and The University of Queensland) and in Denmark (Denmark Technical University). To enable digestion of the tough, heavily lignified and toxic eucalypt foliage, koalas possess a suite of bacteria in their gut that assist in the breakdown and detoxification of these toxins and potentially lignin. It is also apparent that koalas, and/or the bacteria, are able to metabolize the toxic chemicals for their own purposes. For example, terpenes are major constituents of male koala sternal glands secretions (used for marking territory). We have sequenced different microbiome communities of the koala with aim to uncover new and novel enzymes and bring to light unique biological mechanism of this iconic animal.


Short CV 

June 2012 – Present: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Copenhagen

January 2012 – Present: Postdoctoral Fellow, Monash University

2012: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Plant Physiology, University of Melbourne

2002 – 2006: Bachelor of Science (Hons), Zoology & Botany, University of Melbourne