Associate Professor Steve Johnston

Associate Professor

School of Agriculture and Food Sciences
Faculty of Science
s.johnston1@uq.edu.au
+61 7 54601 076

Overview

A/Prof Stephen Johnston is a Reader in Reproduction (40% Teaching; 40% Research and 20% Service) in the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences Studies at the University of Queensland, where he teaches animal reproduction to applied science and science undergraduate and postgraduate students. Stephen was trained as a zoologist and specialises in the area of reproductive biology in a broad diversity of species ranging from prawns to tigers but with a major focus on Australian mammals. A/Prof Johnston has published 283 scientific works in basic and applied science disciplines including reproductive anatomy, physiology and behaviour. He was the first person in the world to produce a pouch young following artificial insemination in a marsupial, a task that he and his colleagues have now carried out successfully in the koala, a total of 34 times. Stephen is also a specialist in the cryopreservation of marsupial spermatozoa and in the assessment of sperm DNA fragmentation, including human and domestic animal spermatozoa. A/Prof Johnston’s recent research interests and grant success include studies aimed at a better understanding of the effect of chlamydia on male koala reproduction, heat stress in koalas, sociobiology of koalas, genetic and reproductive management of koalas, wombat captive reproduction, echidna captive breeding, crocodile artificial insemination and prawn aquaculture. He was recently elected Fellow of the Society for Reproductive Biology (2019)

Research Interests

  • Reproductive Biology of Wildlife
    The study of fundamental (anatomy, physiology and behaviour) and applied biology of the reproduction of Australian fauna and exotic mammals
  • Assessment of male human fertility
    Studies centred around the assessment of sperm DNA fragmentation in human reproductive medicine
  • Cryopreservation of spermatozoa
    A study of the cryopreservation of spermatozoa of vertebrate species

Research Impacts

For 25 years, A/Prof Johnston has been the leader in the development of assisted breeding technology in Australian native fauna, with a strong interest in marsupial reproduction. His successful koala artificial breeding technology has been incorporated into State Government Conservation Policy and Legislation. The koala assisted breeding technology, which he developed, is also currently been used by the Queensland Zoo industry for genetic exchange and there are plans to use the technology for the overseas export of koala sperm to Japan and the United States. This work has also received recent acknowledgement n the Koala Expert Panel Final Report to the Queensland Government (2018). He provides expert advice and consultancy to the (1) Zoo Industry - Dreamworld, Australia Zoo, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Taronga Zoo, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Rockhampton Zoo, Perth Zoo, Australian Animals Care and Education, Sea World, Paradise Country, San Diego Zoo, Australian Japan Wildlife Education Conservation Foundation, Japanese Zoo Industry (2) Production Animal Industry - Koorana Crocodile Farm, Ag Force – teacher education programs, Prawn and Aquaculture (DAFFI and CSIRO). He is a regular media commentator on wildlife related issues for TV and radio and has been involved with numerous documentaries on marsupial and monotreme reproduction including “Koala Miracle” by Lyndal Davies (1998) from Rock Wallaby Productions, (which featured his work on the successful artificial insemination of the koala) “Miracle babies” produced by National Geographic Channel (2012) - http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/episodes/koala-dating-game1/ and morerecently, a new documentary “Born in the Wild” produced by Charlotte Hunt-Grubble from Windfall Films on my koala and echidna reproductive research.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland
  • Bachelor of Science (Honours), The University of Queensland
  • Associate Diploma Applied Biology, The University of Queensland

Publications

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Grants

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Supervision

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Available Projects

  • This is available as a PhD project. Species to be investigated include the echidna, platypus, koala, bandicoot and greater bilby. Joint supervision with the veterinary school.

  • This funded project is suitable as an honours study or masters phil or coursework porject. It is supervised by Dr Taylor Pini from the veterinary school and A/Prof Stephen Johnston from SAFS.

    Australia faces an extinction crisis, and macropods are no exception, with 60% under threat. Captive breeding using assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) can be a crucial tool but requires in depth knowledge of the species’ reproductive biology. There has been little research or success in this area in macropods. Given this, we aim to characterise important molecular changes in macropod sperm, including epididymal maturation, exposure to prostate fluid and cryopreservation. In doing this, we expect to generate new knowledge of macropod reproductive biology. This is an important first step towards developing effective ARTs for the conservation of threatened and endangered macropods.

  • This funded project is suitable as an honours study or masters phil or coursework porject. It is supervised by Dr Andres Gambini and A/Prof Stephen Johnston from SAFS. Koalas have gone from not being listed to endangered within a decade. Biobanking offers a solution to store or “bank” live koala genetics by preserving sex cells such as sperm, eggs, and embryos. While cryopreservation has been used to preserve spermatozoa of humans and a range of animal species there has been limited success to date in using standard cryopreservation techniques in marsupials. Freeze-drying (also known as lyophilization) has been proposed as an alternative method for sperm preservation to store sperm indefinitely at ambient temperature and/or in ordinary refrigerators. If suitable protection is provided, injection of the freeze-dried sperm nucleus using intracytoplasmic injection (ICSI) can potentially activate the oocyte resulting in embryonic development. We aim to explore freeze-drying koala sperm for the first time as an alternative to conventional freezing technology. Sperm DNA will be assessed, and sperm cells will be injected into bovine eggs.

View all Available Projects

Publications

Book

Book Chapter

  • Gosálvez, Jaime, Vargas-Baquero, Eduardo and Johnston, Stephen D. (2022). Sperm DNA fragmentation and its relevance to men with spinal cord injury. Cellular, molecular, physiological, and behavioral aspects of spinal cord injury: The Neuroscience of Spinal Cord Injury. (pp. 93-104) edited by Rajkumar Rajendram, Victor R. Preedy and Colin R. Martin. London, United Kingdom: Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-822427-4.00008-3

  • Keeley, Tamara and Johnston, Stephen (2019). Assessment and management of reproduction in Australian monotremes and marsupials. Current therapy in medicine of Australian mammals. (pp. 63-84) edited by Larry Vogelnest and Timothy Portas. Clayton South, VIC, Australia: CSIRO Publishing.

  • Johnston, Stephen D. and Holt, William V. (2019). Using the koala (phascolarctos cinereus) as a case study to illustrate the development of artificial breeding technology in marsupials: An update. Reproductive sciences in animal conservation. (pp. 327-362) Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature Switzerland. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-23633-5_12

  • Fernandez, Jose Luis, Johnston, Stephen and Gosalvez, Jaime (2018). Sperm chromatin dispersion (SCD) assay. A clinician’s guide to sperm DNA and chromatin damage. (pp. 137-152) edited by Armand Zini and Ashok Agarwal. Cham, Switzerland: Spinger. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-71815-6_8

  • Vincent Holt, William and Johnston, Stephen (2018). Mammalian reproduction overview. Encyclopedia of reproduction. (pp. 486-494) Cambridge, MA United States: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-809633-8.20508-6

  • Johnston, Stephen and Keeley, Tamara (2015). Enigmas in reproductive biology. Marsupials and monotremes: nature's enigmatic mammals. (pp. 145-227) edited by Athol Klieve, Lindsay Hogan, Stephen Johnston and Peter Murray. New York, NY, United States: Nova Science Publishers.

  • Gosalvez, Jaime, Holt, William V. and Johnston, Stephen D. (2014). Sperm DNA Fragmentation and its role in wildlife conservation. Reproductive sciences in animal conservation: Progress and prospects. (pp. 357-384) edited by William V. Holt, Janine L. Brown and Pierre Comizzoli. New York, NY United States: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-0820-2-15

  • Johnston, Stephen D. and Holt, William V. (2014). The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus): A case study in the development of reproductive technology in a marsupial. Reproductive sciences in animal conservation: Progress and prospects. (pp. 171-203) edited by William V. Holt, Janine L. Brown and Pierre Comizzoli. New York NY United States: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-0820-2-9

  • Gosálvez, J., López-Fernández, C., Arroyo, F., Gosálbez, A., Gutiérrez-Cortés, E. I. and Johnston, S. D. (2013). The assessment of sperm DNA damage in the rabbit using the halomax assay. Rabbits: Biology, Diet and Eating Habits and Disorders. (pp. 87-100) edited by Gianni Adamo and Albert Costanza. Hauppage, NY, U.S.A.: Nova Science Publishers.

  • Johnston, Stephen, Mucci, Al and Ellis, William (2013). The role of captive koalas in koala conservation. Conserving central Queensland's koalas. (pp. 54-59) edited by Nicole Flint and Alistair Melzer. Rockhampton, QLD, Australia: Central Queensland University.

  • Johnston, Stephen (2013). Workshop Session3: Captive management in global koala conservation (local, national and international refuges for koala genotypes). Conserving central Queensland's koalas. (pp. 60-60) Rockhampton, QLD, Australia: Central Queensland University.

  • Gosálvez, J., Cortés-Gutiérrez, E. I., Dávila-Rodríguez, M. I., Fernández, J. L., López-Fernández, C. and Johnston, S. D. (2011). Mapping alkali-labile sites in mammalian spermatozoa. Animal reproduction: new research developments. (pp. 219-232) New York, NY, United States: Nova Science Publishers.

  • Melville, D. F., O'Brien, G. M. and Johnston, S. D. (2011). The novel reproductive biology of the female flying-fox and its implications for the successful development of an artificial insemination programme. The biology and conservation of Australasian bats. (pp. 128-135) edited by Bradley Law, Peggy Eby, Daniel Lunney and Lindy Lumsden. Mosman, NSW Australia: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. doi: 10.7882/FS.2011.015

  • Cortés-Gutiérrez, E. I., Dávila-Rodríguez, M. I., Fernández, J. L., Gosálvez, J., Johnston, S. D. and López-Fernández, C. (2009). Mapping alkali-labile sites in mammalian spermatozoa. Animal reproduction : New research developments. (pp. 219-231) edited by Lucas T. Dahnof. New York , NY, U.S.A.: Nova Publishers.

  • Johnston, S. D. and Holt, W. V. (2001). Germplasm conservation in marsupials. Cryobanking the Genetic Resource. (pp. 201-227) edited by PF Watson and WV Holt. London: Taylor and Francis.

  • Johnston, S. D., Daddow, L. and Carrick, F. N. (1995). Ultrastructural and light observations of mature spermatozoa and sperm maturation of the Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis). Advances in spermatozoal phylogeny and taxonomy. (pp. 397-408) edited by Barrie G M Jamieson, Juan Ausio and Jean-Lou Justine. Paris: Editions du Muséum.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

Completed Supervision

Possible Research Projects

Note for students: The possible research projects listed on this page may not be comprehensive or up to date. Always feel free to contact the staff for more information, and also with your own research ideas.

  • This is available as a PhD project. Species to be investigated include the echidna, platypus, koala, bandicoot and greater bilby. Joint supervision with the veterinary school.

  • This funded project is suitable as an honours study or masters phil or coursework porject. It is supervised by Dr Taylor Pini from the veterinary school and A/Prof Stephen Johnston from SAFS.

    Australia faces an extinction crisis, and macropods are no exception, with 60% under threat. Captive breeding using assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) can be a crucial tool but requires in depth knowledge of the species’ reproductive biology. There has been little research or success in this area in macropods. Given this, we aim to characterise important molecular changes in macropod sperm, including epididymal maturation, exposure to prostate fluid and cryopreservation. In doing this, we expect to generate new knowledge of macropod reproductive biology. This is an important first step towards developing effective ARTs for the conservation of threatened and endangered macropods.

  • This funded project is suitable as an honours study or masters phil or coursework porject. It is supervised by Dr Andres Gambini and A/Prof Stephen Johnston from SAFS. Koalas have gone from not being listed to endangered within a decade. Biobanking offers a solution to store or “bank” live koala genetics by preserving sex cells such as sperm, eggs, and embryos. While cryopreservation has been used to preserve spermatozoa of humans and a range of animal species there has been limited success to date in using standard cryopreservation techniques in marsupials. Freeze-drying (also known as lyophilization) has been proposed as an alternative method for sperm preservation to store sperm indefinitely at ambient temperature and/or in ordinary refrigerators. If suitable protection is provided, injection of the freeze-dried sperm nucleus using intracytoplasmic injection (ICSI) can potentially activate the oocyte resulting in embryonic development. We aim to explore freeze-drying koala sperm for the first time as an alternative to conventional freezing technology. Sperm DNA will be assessed, and sperm cells will be injected into bovine eggs.

  • This is available as an honours project or master's coursework project. Ovulation in the koala induced by the physical act of mating and chemical induction by exposure to semen. This study will examine the histology and physiology of the koala ovary during different stages of the oestrous cycle.