Professor Mary Garson


School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences
Faculty of Science
+61 7 336 53605


Professor Mary Garson completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge, followed by research fellowships in Rome and in Cambridge and then briefly as an industrial medicinal chemist. She migrated to Australia in 1983 as a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellow, and has been a Professor of Chemistry at The University of Queensland since 2006. Professor Garson has published widely on chemistry and chemical ecology of bioactive metabolites from marine sponges and mollusks. A second area of collaborative research explores the chemistry of South East Asian medicinal plants. Numerous invitations to present international conference lectures together with >150 research publications and various editorial board memberships attest to her senior status within the international natural products community. An unusual form of professional recognition is the naming of a new flatworm species as Maritigrella marygarsonae. She has completed more than 400 SCUBA dives in her research work.

She has been President RACI-Q, chair of the International Relations Committee of RACI and a member of the National Committee for Chemistry. She was Executive Secretary of the World Chemistry Congress/IUPAC General Assembly in 2001. From 2002-2005 she chaired the Board of Australian Science Innovations, and led a university-government-industry corporate partnership that organized the 15th International Biology Olympiad. She has organised several scientific meetings, including CHEM-BIOTECH (2007 World Chemistry Congress) and ISCNP27/ICOB7 (2011). She has been a Titular Member of the International Union of Pure and Applied chemistry (IUPAC) since 2006, Secretary of Division III (organic and biomolecular, 2008-2011), Division Vice President (2012-2013), and then the first female President of the Division (2014-2015). She is currently an elected Member of the IUPAC Bureau, and has responsibility for global planning and management of the celebrations for the centenary of IUPAC in 2019. She conceived and led the global networking breakfast Women sharing a Chemical Moment in Time as a pre-launch event for the International Year of Chemistry; worldwide, >5000 chemists from >40 countries participated, making this one of the largest (virtual) gatherings of women scientists ever held. Professor Garson has always been a passionate advocate for women in chemistry.

Research Interests

  • Marine natural products
    Our research explores the structures (including their complex stereochemistry), biosynthesis, and chemical ecology of bioactive metabolites isolated from sponges, ascidians, and molluscs. In our work, the biochemical pathways by which these metabolites are produced have been investigated by incorporation of labelled intermediates. In this way, my group has explored the origin of cytotoxic sesqui- and diterpene isonitrile/isothiocyanate metabolites in marine sponges, and of marine polypropionate antibiotics from siphonariid limpets. I also have an interest in determining the site of synthesis and biological function of the bioactive metabolites. Ongoing synthetic studies linked to our biosynthetic research are directed towards the synthesis of sesquiterpene isonitriles and alkaloids. We have explored the role of microbial symbionts in the formation of sponge-derived metabolites. A collaboration with the zoology department explored the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of sponge chemicals on settlement and metamorphosis of a common fouling invertebrate, the ascidian. Current research explores the chemical basis of communication and defense in marine molluscs (nudibranchs and sacoglossans).
  • Medicinal chemistry of SE Asian plants
    A second area of current research interest is the natural products chemistry of medicinal plants from SE Asia, particularly Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. The genera Pandanus, Fagraea, and Durio have been of particular interest, and have provided novel and bioactive alkaloid, lignan and terpene structures with stereochemical challenges

Research Impacts

Marine organisms have been proven as prolific source of natural products that potentially can be used as lead compounds or which have inspired synthetic chemists as synthetic targets. As of 2012, six out of 20 natural products of marine origin (either directly or as a derivative) that have been approved for FDA use as a drug or in clinical trial were from molluscs. Similarly, extensive study of marine chemical ecological interactions has enriched our knowledge of biological and evolutionary patterns, and of the role of small molecules in chemical defensive strategies underwater.Nudibranchs (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Opisthobranchia) are a group of marine animals that feed on marine sponges and have complex communication, defense and reproductive needs that may be mediated by small molecules. Our research work into the chemicals present in both molluscs and sponges contributes to a better understanding of chemical communication in the underwater world, and thereby provides chemical insight into environmental management. The interdisciplinary nature of our research leads to training across a range of disciplines and experimental techniques.


  • Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge
  • Master of Arts, University of Cambridge
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of Cambridge


View all Publications


View all Supervision


Book Chapter

  • Garson, M. J. (2010). Marine natural products as antifeedants. In Lewis N Mander and Hung-wen Liu (Ed.), Comprehensive natural products II : Chemistry and biology (pp. 503-537) Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier.

  • Nonato, M. G., Takayama, H. and Garson, M. J. (2008). Pandanus alkaloids: Chemistry and biology. In Geoffrey A. Cordell (Ed.), The Alkaloids: Chemistry and Biology 1 ed. (pp. 215-249) Oxford, UK: Academic Press.

  • Jumpathing, K., Phutdhawong, W., Chowwanapoonpohn, S., Garson, M. J. and Buddhasukh, D. (2007). Electrocoagulation in aqueous alcoholic solutions. In Nunez, Magdalena (Ed.), Trends in Electrochemistry Research (pp. 143-160) Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

  • Garson, M. J. (2004). Biodiversity and bioprospecting. In Natalie P. Stoianoff (Ed.), Accessing biological resources : complying with the Convention on Biological Diversity (pp. 17-31) The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

  • Garson, M. J. (2001). Ecological Perspectives on Marine Natural Product Biosynthesis. In James B McClintock and Bill J Baker (Ed.), Marine Chemical Ecology (pp. 71-114) USA: CRC Press.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors:

Completed Supervision