Professor Peter Koopman

Professorial Research Fellow

Institute for Molecular Bioscience

Exec Director Research Integrity

Office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and International)

Affiliate Professor

School of Biomedical Sciences
Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
+61 7 334 62059


Peter Koopman is in the Division of Molecular Genetics and Development at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland, Australia. He was part of the team that discovered the Y-chromosomal sex-determining gene Sry in 1990, recognized as one of the most important breakthroughs in 20th century genetics. He heads a team of 13 scientists and students whose current research focuses on genes that regulate embryonic development, with special emphasis on the molecular genetics of sex development, fertility, gonadal cancers and intersex conditions.

Prof Koopman is author of over 240 scientific papers, including 5 in Nature, 7 in Nature Genetics, 2 in Science and 2 in Cell, which together have been cited 12000 times in the literature. He is Editor-in-Chief of Sexual Development and a member of the editorial board of four other international journals. Prof Koopman received the AMP Queensland Biomedical Research Award in 1992, the Julian Wells Medal in 1998, the Amersham-Pharmacia Biotech Medal in 2003, the President’s Medal of the Australia and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology in 2005, the GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence in 2007 and the Lemberg Medal in 2009. He is a Senior Principal Research Fellow of the NHMRC and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.


I was awarded a PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1986, for research in stem cell differentiation. I undertook two postdoctdoral appointments in London, first at the Medical Research Council’s Mammalian Development Unit, under Dr Anne McLaren, FRS, where I conducted a molecular analysis of mouse embryo development. My second postdoc was undertaken at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, with Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, FRS. There, we isolated the mouse Y-chromosomal gene Sry and demonstrated its role as the testis-determining gene by reversing the sex of XX transgenic mice. In 1992 I took up a research group leader position at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. From 2007-2012 I was a Federation Fellow of the ARC, and in 2008 was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

Key discoveries

  • The mammalian sex-determining gene Sry (1990) – The discovery of Sry is regarded as one of the major achievements in molecular genetics in the 20th century (4 papers in Nature, 1 in Cell, total 3159 citations).
  • The campomelic dysplasia/XY sex reversal gene Sox9 (1995) – Sox9 is now the focus of intense international research into its roles in chondrogenesis, skeletal disorders, stem cells and sex determination (2 papers in Nature Genetics, total 878 citations; >2000 papers in PubMed to date have Sox9 in the title/abstract).
  • Sox18, master regulator of lymphatic vessel development (2008) – Discovery of master switch genes regulating organ development is critical for stem cell biology and regenerative therapy. Sox18 is also a human disease gene, and is involved in tumour angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis, raising the possibility of Sox18-based therapeutics (Nature, 2008).
  • Regulation of germ cell fate in the embryo (2006) – We discovered that retinoic acid signalling initiates oogenesis in the fetal ovary, and that retinoid degradation combined with FGF9 activity in the testis blocks this pathway. Our discoveries overturned current dogma and set the course for research in developmental reproductive biology (Science, 2006; Dev Cell, 2012).

Research training

I supervise 6 PhD students, and am Chair of Examiners for all RHD students in the Division of Molecular Genetics and Development at IMB. In all, I have trained over 120 scientists in my laboratory. These include 27 PhD students and 31 postdocs, many of whom have become lab heads at institutions including the MRC (UK), and Universities of Tokyo, Washington, Otago, Monash University and UQ.

I co-founded the Australian Developmental Biology Workshop in 2001, a training-ground for the next generation of developmental biologists in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. I was organiser of the Cold Spring Harbor summer course: Molecular Embryology of the Mouse, 1995 to 1998, considered the most prestigious training course for developmental biologists worldwide.

Professional activities

I am on the Council of the Australian Academy of Science, the Executive of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Bilogy, and the DSD Subcommittee of the Australasia Pediatric Endocrinology Group.

I founded or co-founded the International Sox Conference, the Australian Sex Summit, the Australian DSD Clinical Symposia, the Brisbane Developmental Biology Seminar Series, and the UQ Program in Developmental Biology, and continue to play executive and organizational roles in those.

I am editor-in-chief of Sexual Development, the major specialist journal in its field, and on the editorial boards of Developmental Dynamics, Mechanisms of Development, Gene Expression Patterns, and ISRN Developmental Biology. I am a Prime Faculty member of the Faculty of 1000. Previously, I served on the advisory panel for Nature Reviews Genetics (2003-2010).

I am on the Human Frontiers Science Program Review Committee for Fellowships, the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee, the Management Group of the Australian Phenomics Network, and the NHMRC Research Translation Faculty. Previously, I was on the Asia Exchange Committee, the International Program Selection Committee, the Molecular and Cell Biology Sectional Committee and Chair of the Boden Conference Selection Committee for the Australian Academy of Science. I also served on the NHMRC Academy in 2008 and 2012, the NHMRC Genetics panel in 2010, and the ARC College of Experts, 2005-2007.

Research Interests

  • Sex Determination and Gonadal Development
    Development of two distinct sexes is critical to the survival of animal species, and hinges on whether testes or ovaries develop in the embryo. Variations in sexual development in humans, including intersex conditions, are relatively common, often arise as a result of breakdown of typical gonadal development, and are sometimes distressing. My group is studying the molecular and cellular biology of Sry (the Y-chromosome gene that triggers male development) and several other sex-determining genes, in order to understand their roles in sex determination and the defects that can result in intersex conditions. Having accurate information regarding the cause of intersex in a newborn baby helps the family, together with their medical support team, be clearer about the likely future implications of the condition for that person and what action, if any, should be taken. We recently created a website that aims to assist people with disorders of sex development (DSD; sometimes called intersex) and their families to better understand their condition and improve understanding and awareness in the wider community. The website can be visited at:
  • Sox Gene Function and Evolution
    The discovery of Sry led us to identify a family of 20 structurally related genes called Sox genes. We have discovered several new members of this gene family and are examining their roles in embryonic development: many of them are now known to be master regulators of organ development. Studying these genes and the proteins they encode will help us understand how embryo development is programmed, and shed light on the causes of congenital defects in the development of organs such as the gonads, brain, and blood and lymphatic vessels.
  • Development of Germ Cells
    We study how germ cells (the cells that generate sperm or oocytes) are formed and properly regulated in the embryo, with the aims of identifying genes involved in gonadal cancers and infertility, and using this information to diagnose and manage these disorders. This work may also help us develop new approaches to transgenic animal production, identify new targets for pest control, provide a basis for reprogramming germ cells for applications in biotechnology, and formulate innovative strategies for enhancing or suppressing animal fertility.

Research Impacts

Understanding the complexity of embryonic development is one of biology’s most enduring challenges. Our fundamental research in molecular genetics and developmental biology has medical application in diagnosis and management of human disorders of sexual development, fertility, and gonadal cancers. Potential biotechnological applications include drug development, stem cell programming and gender ratio manipulation in pest, wildlife and livestock species.

Specific indicators of impact

  • Over 70 invitations to write reviews, book chapters and commentaries, including those in Cell (2001), Developmental Cell (2002), Nature News and Views (2003, 2004), Nature Reviews Genetics (2006), Physiological Reviews (2009), Trends in Genetics (2004, 2005, 2009) and Development (2007, 2010).
  • Over 250 invitations to speak nationally and internationally at conferences, seminars, and public talks. In the last 5 years I delivered 4 keynote addresses, 27 plenary lectures, 16 other invited presentations, and 11 international seminars.
  • 6 major national awards—the AMP-ASMR Biomedical Research Award (1992), the Julian Wells Medal (1998), the Amersham-Pharmacia Biotech Medal (2003), the ANZSCDB President’s Medal (2005), the GSK Award for Research Excellence (2007), and the Lemberg Medal (2009).
  • My group's work has been featured in press releases (2004, 05, 06, 08, 10, 12, 13), on Local, national or New Zealand radio (2004, 05, 07, 09), on television (2004, 07, 08), in newspapers (yearly 2004-2010), in Government briefings (2006), in industry magazines (2007, 09, 10), and in popular magazines (2008).


  • PhD, University of Melbourne
  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Melbourne
  • Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of Melbourne


View all Publications


Featured Publications

Book Chapter

  • Bowles, Josephine and Koopman, Peter (2015). Retinoic acid and the control of meiotic initiation. In Pascal Dolle and Karen Niederreither (Ed.), The retinoids: biology, biochemistry, and disease (pp. 383-399) New Jersey, NY, United States: Wiley - Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781118628003.ch17

  • Spiller, Cassy M. and Koopman, Peter (2011). Cell cycle control of germ cell differentiation. In Jacek Z. Kubiak (Ed.), Cell cycle in development (pp. 269-308) New York, United States: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-19065-0

  • Koopman, Peter and Wilhelm, Dagmar (2011). SRY, sex determination and gonadal differentiation. In Cheryll Tickle (Ed.), eLS eLS: Developmental Biology ed. (pp. 1-9) Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons. doi:10.1002/047001590X

  • Combes, Alexamder, Spiller. Cassy and Koopman, Peter (2010). Sex determination and Gonadal Development. In Marie-Hélène Verlhac and Anne Villeneuve (Ed.), Oogenesis : The universal process (pp. 27-80) Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Hosking, B. and Koopman, P. (2008). The SOX genes in development and disease. In C. J. Epstein, R. P. Erickson and A. Wynshaw-Boris (Ed.), Inborn errors of development 2nd ed. (pp. 253-254) Oxford; New York: Oxford University Pres.

  • Young, N. and Koopman, P. (2007). Sox genes at the heart of endothelial transcription. In William C. Aird (Ed.), Endothelial Biomedicine (pp. 861-867) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Koopman, Peter and Wilhelm, Dagmar (2006). Gonadal sex determination and differentiation. In Alessandro Finazzi-Agrò (Ed.), Encyclopedia of life sciences (pp. 1-7) Chichester U.K.: John Wiley & Sons. doi:10.1038/npg.els.0004361

  • Hargrave, M. R., Bowles, J. and Koopman, P A (2006). In situ hybridization of whole-mount embryos. In Darby, I. and Hewitson, T. (Ed.), In Situ Hybridization Protocols 3rd ed. (Methods in Molecular Biology, Vol. 326) 3rd ed. ed. (pp. 103-114) Totowa, New Jersey, USA 07512: Humana Press.

  • Bowles, J. and Koopman, P. A. (2004). Gonads-Mullerian Ducts. In Lanza, R.P.; Gearhart, B.L.M.; Melton, D.A.;Pederson, R.; Thomson, M.D.; West and M.D. (Ed.), Handbook of Stem Cells Volume 1 1 ed. (pp. 345-357) USA: Elsevier Academic Oress.

  • Koopman, P. A. (2001). Sry, Sox9 and mammalian sex determination. In Scherer, G, Schmid and M (Ed.), Genes and Mechanisms in Vertebrate Sex Determination (pp. 25-56) Switzerland: Birkhauser, Basel.

  • Koopman, P. A. (1999). Gonadal Induction. In Sarah Robinson (Ed.), Embryonic Encyclopedia of Life Sciences 1st ed. (pp. 1-9) UK: Macmillan References Ltd.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

  • Bagheri-Fam, S, Argentaro, A, Svingen, T, Combes, A, Sinclair, AH, Koopman, P and Harley, VR (2011). Defective Sertoli Cell Proliferation and Androgen Receptor Function in a Mouse Model of the ATR-X Syndrome. In: Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Unknown, unknown, (S76-S76). unknown.

  • Sim, Helena, Argentaro, Anthony, Czech, Daniel P., Bagheri-Fam, Stefan, Sinclair, Andrew H., Koopman, Peter, Boizet-Bonhoure, Brigitte, Poulet, Francis and Harley, Vincent R. (2011). Inhibition of SRY-Calmodulin Complex Formation induces ectopic expression of ovarian cell markers in developing XY gonads. In: Program and Abstracts of the 7th World Congress on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. 7th World Congress on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), Portland, Oregon, USA, (S76-S76). 18-21 September 2011. doi:10.1017/S2040174411000481

  • Koopman, Peter and Wilhelm, Dagmar (2011). Insights into the aetiology of ovotesticular DSD from studies of mouse ovotestes. In: Maria I. New and Joe Leigh Simpson, Hormonal and Genetic Basis of Sexual Differentiation Disorders and Hot Topics in Endocrinology. Proceedings of the 2nd World Conference. 2nd World Conference - Hormonal and Genetic Basis of Sexual Differentiation, Miami, Florida, USA, (55-56). January 15, 2010. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-8002-1_13

  • Bagheri-Fam, S., Argentaro, A., Svingen, T., Combes, A., Koopman, P. and Harley, V.R. (2010). ATRX is a sertoli cell survival factor and regulator of spermatogenesis via interaction with androgen receptor. In: Abstracts - 92nd Meeting and Expo of the Endocrine Society (ENDO 2010). 92nd Meeting and Expo of the Endocrine Society (ENDO 2010), San Diego, CA, U.S.A., (). 19-22 June 2010.

  • Koopman, P. (2010). The delicate balance between male and female sex determining pathways: potential for disruption of early steps in sexual development. In: Ewa Rajpert-De Meyts, International Journal of Andrology. Proceedings of the 5th Copenhagen Workshop on Endocrine Disrupters. 5th Copenhagen Workshop on Endocrine Disrupters: Ubiquitous Endocrine Disrupters and Possible Human Health Effects, Copenhagen, Denmark, (252-258). 20-22 May 2009. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2605.2009.01001.x

  • Koopman, P. (2009). Molecular pathways regulating gonadal development in mice. In: Journal of Physiological Sciences: Proceedings of the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress 2008. Australian Health and Medical Research Congress 2008, Brisbane, Qld, Australia, (71-71). 16-21 November, 2008.

  • Mercer, Tim R., Dinger, Marcel E., Wilhelm, Dagmar E., Solda, Giulia S., Koopman, Peter A. and Mattick, John S. (2009). Regulated independent expression of 3' untranslated regions in mammals. In: Abstracts of the 3rd MC-GARD Meeting. 3rd Marie Curie-Genome Architecture in Relation to Disease Meeting (MC-GARD), Edinburgh Scotland, (112-112). 01-05 April 2009.

  • Bowles, Josephine, Feng, Chun-Wei, Davidson, Tara and Koopman, Peter (2009). Sex fate determination in the germ line. In: 42nd Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction: Meeting Abstracts : Minisymposium XIII. 42nd Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, Pittsburgh PA, (74-74). 8-22 July 2009.

  • Holt, E., Jackson, A., Romain, S. D., Tannock, S., Aitken, R. L., Koopman, P. A. and McLaughlin, E. A. (2006). CXCR4/SDF1 interaction in the embryonic and neonatal mouse teste. In: Peter Schlegel and Matthew Hardy, Journal of Andrology: 31st Annual Meeting of the American Society of Andrology. 31st Annual Meeting of the American Society of Andrology, Chicago, IL, U.S.A., (76-76). April, 2006.

  • Koopman, P. (2006). Daughterless cane toads. In: Kerryn Molloy and Wendy Henderson, Science of Cane Toad Invasion and Control. Proceedings of the Invasive Animals CRC/ CSIRO/Qld NRM&W Cane Toad Workshop. Invasive Animals CRC/CSIRO/Qld NRM&W Cane Toad Workshop, Brisbane, (111-116). 5-6 June 2006.

  • Farkas, D., Bowles, J., Lehnert, S.A. and Koopman, P.A. (2006). The production of male of-only offspring in beef cattle - a proof of principle project. In: Transgenic Research: Program and Abstracts of the 7th Transgenic Technology Meeting (TT2007). 7th Transgenic Technology Meeting (TT2007), Brisbane, Qld, Australia, (784-785). 12-14 February, 2007. doi:10.1007/s11248-006-9047-x

  • Koopman, P., Knight, D., Smith, C., Wilson, M., Wilhelm, D., Richman, J., Rossant, J. and Bowles, J. (2005). Entry of germ cells into meiosis is induced by retinoic acid in mice. In: Mechanisms of Development. , , (S8-S8). .

  • Bowles, J., Knight, D., Smith, C., Wilson, M., Wilhelm, D., Richman, J., Rossant, J. and Koopman, P. (2005). Entry of mouse embryonic germ cells into meiosis is induced by retinoic acid. In: Mechanisms of Development. , , (S127-S127). .

  • Polanco, J. C., Jackson, A., Wilhelm, D. and Koopman, P. (2005). Possible role of KRAB-containing proteins in sex determination. In: Mechanisms of Development. , , (S66-S67). .

  • Bradford, S., Wilhelm, D., Jackson, A., Beverdam, A. and Koopman, P. (2005). A search for downstream targets of SRY. In: 15th International Society of Developmental Biologists Congress, Sydney, Australia, (S50-S51). 3-7 September 2005.

  • Beverdam, A. and Koopman, P. (2005). Identification of novel genes involved in male and female sex determination and early gonad development. In: 15th International Society of Developmental Biologists Congress, Sydney, Australia, (S69-S69). 3-7 September 2005.

  • Bowles, J., Teasdale, R. D., James, K. M. and Koopman, P. A. (2003). Dppa3 is a marker of pluripotency and has a human homologue that is expressed in germ cell tumours. In: H. P. Klinger and M. Schmid, Cytogenetic and Genome Research Vol. 101. Vertebrate Sex Determination, Kona, Hawaii, (261-265). 24-28 March, 2003. doi:10.1159/000074346

  • Beverdam, A., Wilhelm, D. and Koopman, P. (2003). Molecular characterization of three gonad cell lines. In: Valentine Lance, Cytogenetic and Genome Research: Vertebrate Sex Determination. Third International Symposium on Vertebrate Sex Determination, Kona, Hawaii, (242-249). 24-28 March 2003. doi:10.1159/000074344

  • Takada, S. and Koopman, P. A. (2003). Origin and possible roles of the Sox8 transcription factor gene during sexual development. In: Klinger, H. P. and Schmid, M., Cytogenetic and Genome Research. Third International Symposium on Vertebrate Sex Determination, Kona, Hawaii, (212-218). 23-29 March, 2003. doi:10.1159/000074339

  • Koopman, P.A., Bullejos Martin, M., Loffler, K.A. and Bowles, J. (2002). Expression-based strategies for discovery of genes involved in testis and ovary development. In: Derek Chadwick and Jamie Goode, Novartis Foundation Symposia. The genetics and biology of sex determination, Novartis Foundation, London, (240-249). 1-3 May, 2001.

  • Loffler, KA, Bowles, J and Koopman, P (2001). Assessment of candidate ovarian-determining genes.. In: Developmental Biology. , , (210-210). .

  • Bowles, J, Cooper, L, Berkman, J and Koopman, P (1999). Mouse SRY requires a CAG repeat domain for male sex determination.. In: American Journal of Human Genetics. , , (A173-A173). .

  • Wheatley, Susan, Wright, Edwina, Jeske, Yvette, Mccormack, Andrew, Bowles, Josephine and Koopman, Peter (1996). Aetiology of the skeletal dysmorphology syndrome campomelic dysplasia: Expression of the Sox9 gene during chondrogenesis in mouse embryos. In: Conference on Molecular and Developmental Biology of Cartilage, Bethesda, MD, United States, (350-352). 27-30 September 1995. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1996.tb56306.x

Other Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

Completed Supervision