Tony O’Donnell was born and educated in the UK, graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1976 and completed his PhD at the University of Bristol in 1980. He holds visiting positions at Kasetsart and Naresuan Universities in Thailand and since 2012 has held a visiting professorship for Distinguished International Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Subtropical Agriculture. In 2015 he received an honorary doctorate from Naresuan University, for his service to education and research in Thailand.
Before moving to Western Australia in August 2008, he worked at the University of Newcastle in the Northeast of England where he established and was the first Director of the multidisciplinary Institute for Research in Environment and Sustainability (IRES).
Professor O’Donnell has served on the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council grants board for Plant and Microbial Sciences and Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Panel. He has also sat on the Natural Environment Research Council research advisory panel for the Centres for Ecology and Hydrology (Biodiversity panel).
Internationally, he has chaired the grants board of the Finnish Academy of Sciences and holds adjunct Professorships in Thailand and Brazil. He has strong research interests in SE Asia and has led training workshops and UK trade missions in Thailand, Malaysia and Korea.
Soils are complex, multi-organism systems that are becoming amenable to analysis through the expansion of post-genomic technologies into environmental genomics. In the last ten years, the importance of microorganisms in maintaining a sustainable biosphere has been widely recognised. This has resulted in a surge of activity in environmental microbiology, and the development of novel technologies to better interrogate the role of microorganisms in soil.
Professor O’Donnell has used these techniques to investigate gene:environment interactions in a range of systems, including agricultural soils and contaminated land. More recently, together with Thailand and India, he has been developing a research programme in bioenergy based around Jatropha and the conversion of municipal waste to biogas. Central to Professor O'Donnell's research is the need to understand the functional consequences of the interactions between biological complexity (eg, bacteria, fungi, nematodes etc.) and between these components and management of the abiotic soil environment.