Synthetic molecules from natural products

Synthesis of high-value bioactive molecules derived from Tasmanian plant natural products

Degree type


Closing date

27 March 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

This project will develop efficient, scalable syntheses of valuable molecules from natural products extracted/isolated from Tasmanian native plants employing in-house-developed pressurised hot water extraction (PHWE) methodology. Original novel transition-metal-based catalysts will be designed and engineered to establish unprecedented chemical reactions to facilitate this research. In addition to providing enhanced access to bioactive, pharmaceutically-relevant compounds, the results of this project may create new strategies for the rapid and direct synthesis of important classes of molecules. The potential of these processes to establish new modes of small molecule activation and develop novel synthetic methodology will also be explored.

For example, the pharmaceutical drug galanthamine is one of four clinically-approved acetylcholinesterase inhibitors used to treat early- to mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Tasmania has one of the highest rates of this disease in Australia. This project will develop an efficient, scalable synthesis of galanthamine (and novel analogues) from opiates. Opiates, such as thebaine, are isolated from poppies and comprise a multi-billion-dollar global industry. For example, 240 tons of thebaine was manufactured worldwide in 2011 and Tasmania supplies ~45% of the World's opiate-based pharmaceuticals. The industry is worth ~$300m annually to the state and this project can add further value to the important local agriculture industry.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Alex Bissember


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants should already have been awarded a First Class Honours degree or hold equivalent qualifications or relevant and substantial research experience in an appropriate sector.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong research and analytical skills.

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Synthetic organic/organometallic/inorganic chemistry skills, including experience with chromatographic purification techniques
  • Experience with Structural characterisation techniques, such as NMR spectroscopy

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, A/Prof Alex Bissember to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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