The latest research highlights from the UWA Oceans Institute

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August 2022
Research highlights edition  

Authored by: Vivienne White & Julia Reisser


Director's Note


Dear Oceans Institute Community,

Welcome to another special Research Highlights edition of the Oceans Institute's eNewsletter. 

This month we feature highlights from biotech start-up ULUU, who are making waves with their plastic alternative and clean approach to reducing ocean pollution. Oceans Institute Adjunct Fellow and ULUU 
Co-founder Dr Julia Reisser shares some of their latest achievements. 

The OI will be providing a number of Research Highlights editions throughout the year, showcasing examples of the outstanding research across the Institute, and demonstrating the diversity and impactful work of OI members.

We invite OI members to contact to have your research  featured. We are keen to share your successes with our extensive ocean community!


Dr Abbie Rogers
Senior Research Fellow
Deputy Director, Oceans Institute


Ocean materials to replace plastic and benefit the world

Oceans Institute Adjunct Fellow Dr Julia Reisser is a highly regarded marine scientist with 20 years of experience leading R&D for universities, technology companies and foundations.

She holds a doctorate in plastic pollution and is co-founder of the biotech start-up ULUU.

(Photo credit: Benjamin Horgan)
Healthy oceans for the future
With an estimated 15 million metric tons of plastics entering our oceans each year, a solution to this pollution may lie upstream - developing a better alternative to plastics all together. Dr Julia Reisser and the ULUU team are producing a safe and natural polymer to replace all kinds of plastics. 

These polymers are a type of PHA (Polyhydroxalkanoates) that are extremely durable, but also truly biodegradable, even in cold, dark conditions such as the ocean. They mimic plastics well and are strong and water insoluble.

The PHA’s are produced via fermentation using saltwater microbes, seawater and seaweed; reducing fresh water reliance and the need for harmful chemicals. This process also removes the need for energy-intensive, slow equipment sterilisation processes. 

“How can we solve this problem that we’re having with plastic pollution that is affecting our oceans, and our own bodies?”
- Dr Julia Reisser 

The first 'made with ULUU’ objects. (Photo credit ULUU)
Turning seaweed into ULUU
  • Seaweed is currently purchased from farms based in Indonesia and The Philippines; preferencing female farmers where possible.
  • The seaweed carbohydrate is broken down into fermentable sugars, which are then used to produce ULUU using special saltwater microbes and seawater.
  • ULUU is extracted from the microbes and turned into pellets. These pellets can replace the standard plastic pellets made from fossil fuels. 
The ULUU Team (Photo credit: Benjamin Horgan)
A collaborative process

Back in 2020, Reisser and her ULUU Co-founder Michael Kingsbury were wading through mountains of reading material, searching for an answer to the question “Could we make a PHA out of seaweed?” By 2021 they had a provisional patent and were bringing PHA’s to life at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) Waterman’s Bay facility. 

As a start-up, ULUU has received support and funding from a number of sources who recognise the potential and back the research. Through UWA’s Research Development and Innovation department, the UWA Oceans Institute, and with support from IOMRC partners, they were able to develop a pilot product. 

Partnering with UWA, ULUU is working on a wide range of research areas, including bioprocess engineering, synthetic biology and biochemistry.

A collaboration with CSIRO is analysing product quality as well as running tests on how ULUU performs using conventional polymer processing equipment.

Additionally, with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), they are investigating the use of an ULUU by-product as a replacement for fish meal in fish feed pellets, starting with abalone. If upcoming trials are successful, this could significantly improve aquaculture’s environmental footprint.
ULUU biomaterials (Photo credit: Benjamin Horgan)

A winning formulae

ULUU has found success at the inaugural KPMG Nature Positive Challenge, supporting local eco-startups, taking out first prize of $100,000 in 2022. As well as additional funding, the award includes access to specialist consulting teams. For ULUU, this means crucial market research to assist scaling the business while ensuring expansion is done environmentally and ethically. 

“ULUU stood out because of its unique application of synthetic biology to solve a massive environmental challenge: plastic. The judging panel was impressed by the science behind ULUU, and by the team’s approach to building a carbon negative supply chain with positive social and economic impacts.”
- Andrew Yates (CEO KPMG Australia)
Seaweed samples (Photo credit: Benjamin Horgan)

Featured articles

Kieran McNamara Scholarship recipient pursuing his passion to improve reef conservation

AIMS@UWA PhD researcher Declan Stick's project aims to identify heat tolerant coral, the key traits associated with heat tolerance, and any genetic differences that relate to bleaching resistance. Declan discusses his research and the impact of the  Kieran McNamara Scholarship.  Read more here

Scientists investigate the ups and downs of the lives of sharks and rays

An international team of scientists, including from The University of Western Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), have carried out research into how sharks, rays and skates use the ocean depths. Find out more here

Seek Opportunity

Joint Research Postdoctoral Research - Marine Plastic Debris

As part of the AIMS@UWA Alliance, this position will develop, test, and apply novel analytical approaches to quantify and map the dynamics and impacts of marine debris in the marine environment of tropical Australia.

Closing date:

11:55pm AWST, Thursday 15 September 2022

This position is open to international applicants with rights to work in Australia.  

For more details about how to apply, click the Apply Now button.


Positions available at ULUU

ULUU are seeking proactive, analytically minded applicants to join them in the biotechnology and manufacturing space. There are two positions currently available:

Polymer Engineer- become a core part of ULUU’s team, leading the development and production of high-quality ULUU pellets suitable for use in a variety of manufacturing processes. 

Executive Assistant to Co-Founders- join the ULUU team, assisting the co-founders to ensure things operate efficiently and effectively. In short, a jack of all trades.

For more details about how to apply, click the Position Title buttons below.


Upcoming Events

October 28



Ecology People Place (EcoPeoPle) and Oceans Institute Joint Symposium

Water Communities

In this face-to-face symposium, EcoPeoPle and the Oceans Institute will come together to share stories of water communities, both human and more-than-human.

With contributions from scholars spanning the arts and sciences, the symposium will explore water’s diverse social, ecological, temporal, semiotic and material forms, and the relations they inspire, in a collaborative one-day event. 

More details for this limited seating event coming soon. 
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