Alexander Duncan (Alex) Hyatt

By March 11th, 2011


Alexander Duncan Hyatt was born in Melbourne in 1952. His father was an air-traffic controller (ex test crew, Government aircraft factory) and his mother a nursing ‘Charge-Sister’. He did his primary schooling at Highton State Primary School (Geelong); Glenroy State Primary School (Melbourne) and Montmorency State Primary Primary School (Melbourne) and his secondary schooling at Eltham High School (Melbourne) and Kingswood College (Melbourne). Alex’s interest in science was stimulated in high school where he had a fantastic Science Teacher (Mrs White), who made science and mathematics interesting

He obtained his BSc (Hons) degree from La Trobe University in 1977 supported by a State Government Studentship. This carried with it the requirement to undertake a Diploma of Education and to teach. As he recalled:

During my BSc I discovered biochemistry and zoology – invertebrate zoology in particular – which I found was astounding and the staff brilliant. In third year I majored in biochemistry and zoology (animal physiology) and was fortunate to study biochemical pathways and their correlation with cellular structures (electron microscopy); from that time on I was hooked!

His BSc Honours thesis was in insect physiology (water and ion regulation) which extended into a PhD supported by a Government Scholarship and awarded in 1982. His graduate and post-graduate advisor was Professor AT Marshall, Department of Zoology, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC, Australia. During the second year of his PhD he undertook his Dipl Ed and was placed in a high school in the third year of his PhD studies.

In 1981, he was a Lecturer at the Melbourne College of Advanced Education and from 1982 to 1984 was, upon application, allowed to take a Fellowship as an ARGC Research Associate in the Analytical electron microscopy unit of the Department of Zoology, La Trobe University, where he continued his association with Professor AT Marshall.


In 1984, he joined the CSIRO Division of Animal Health as Project Leader Electron Microscopy at the newly constructed Australian National Animal Health Laboratory (ANAHL, now AAHL) where he intended to stay for about five years. He enjoyed the research and the environment in the laboratory to such an extent that he was still there as the head of electron microscopy some 25 years later.

In 2008, he was appointed Research Program Manager, Emergency Disease Response and in 2009 became Head: AAHL Biosecurity Microscopy Facility. His group consists of experts in diagnostic electron microscopy and advanced light microscopy and electron microscopy. The team provides a national capability to CSIRO and other Australian scientists working in the field of biosecurity (infectious diseases). Members of his group are also co-recipients of some of the listed awards.

In 1992, he worked at the University of Oxford with Dr Polly Roy and Professor David Bishop on the structure and function of Bluetongue virus using recombinant viruses.

In addition to his role at CSIRO he is an Adjunct Professor, Queensland University (1998- ); a Research Fellow, James Cook University (2005- ) and a Scientific Associate, Taronga Zoo and Western Plains Zoo (2007- ).

Research interests

His major research activities have included:

Viral identification and characteristion

Development and application of specialised techniques for the detection of exotic and newly immerging viruses.

Viruses identified include, Hendra virus, Pilchard herpes virus, Australian bat lyssavirus, Kangaroo blindness virus, a range of new arboviruses, fish viruses and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which is the aetiological agent for the disappearance of many global frog populations. Techniques used include transmission and scanning electron microscopy and associated techniques including immuno-electron microscopy.

Virus morphogenesis, viral ecology and conservation wildlife medicine

Such as:

  • the development of recombinant viruses for possible use as biological control agents for the cane toad, Bufo marinus, following the identification of new ranaviruses
  • the use of classical electron microscopy to understand the association of viruses with the cells they infect. Outcomes from such ultrastructural studies are used in viral taxonomy studies, viral differentiation and contribute knowledge towards understanding of the events associated with viral replication within a single cell. Examples are Blue Tongue Virus (a serious threat to the sheep and cattle industries), Epizootic Haematopoietic Necrosis Viruses (a serious threat to a number of native fish species in the Murray Darling Basin) and Hendra virus.
  • the study of viral-host interactions involving pathogen spill-over. Following the landmark publication in the international journal Science of the identification of Hendra virus (HeV) as the cause of lethal disease in horses and man, a collaborative NSF grant was obtained to study the replication of HeV in horses. The implications of the results from this study are on-going.

Networking Microscopy

Generating concepts and producing mechanisms for networking electron microscopy networks such as:

  • the generation of software for linking electron microscopes whereby near real-time viral identification is possible
  • the formation of a national biosecurity microscopy laboratory specialising in pathogen identification and disease investigation
  • assisting with the establishment of an EM facility in China and establishing working relationships with institutes around the world
  • initiation of an Asian-Pacific diagnostic electron microscopica network.

He has published a total of 307 publications including two patents, several reviews, 55 original papers, 24 book chapters and 205 Conference Proceedings.

Professional activities

He is a member of the Royal Microscopical Society; Australian Electron Microscopical Society; Australian Society for Microbiology. He has served as an International Adviser for the International Conference for Electron Microscopy conferences, and is a member of the Australian Advisory Committee for Amphibian Diseases. Other positions include:

2008- Editor-in Chief: Diseases of Aquatic Organisms
2008-10 Secretary: Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Society
2006- Subject Editor: Diseases of Aquatic Organisms
2006-08 President: Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Society
  Chair: Ranaviruses working group, International Committee for the Taxonomy of Viruses
  OIE Reference laboratory:

  • Ranaviruses (fish)
  • Ranaviruses of amphibians
  • Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis
  Associate: Consortium for Conservation Medicine

Honours and awards

2009 Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (SRCC) Award – Highly commended
2008 CSIRO ‘Science Service Award’
2006 ‘Environmental Prize’ by Geelong City
2000 Australian Government (AQIS) for excellence in diagnosis
2000 CSIRO Medal for Research Achievement with Lee Berger and colleagues for the discovery of amphibian chytridiomycosis
1995 CSIRO Chairman’s Medal honouring exceptional Research Achievement with Keith Murray and colleagues, for the discovery of Hendra virus


  • Hyatt AD, 2009, Personal communication.