Dr Michael Sweet

Position: Associate Professor in Aquatic Biology

College: College of Life & Natural Sciences

Department: Biosciences

Subject area: Biological Sciences

Research Centre: Environmental Sustainability Research Centre

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I am an academic at the University of Derby where I have been employed since 2013. My prior academic career was at Newcastle University, where I was awarded both my degree and my doctorate. Between my degree and my PhD, I spent just short of four years traveling around the world as a research assistant for numerous scientific projects. These included biodiversity index surveys in the Philippines and Malaysia, radio tracking Sumatran rhinos in Borneo, rehabilitation and management of the endangered black robin in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand and being a game ranger in mainland Africa and Madagascar.

Since completing my PhD, I have published over 50 research articles in peer reviewed journals in the past 6 years. Currently, in addition to my teaching responsibilities at the University, I am the manager of the Aquatic Research Facility which was funded through my partnership with SeaLife.

I have a strong passion for the importance of public engagement in science as evidenced through my various engagements with schools and public groups at science outreach events. I always aim to regularly disseminate my research findings and conduct this through invitations to academic conferences and specialist seminars.

To date, I have won numerous awards including the Charles Darwin Award lecture from the British Science Association and staff excellence awards at the University of Derby.

I am currently the director of studies for five PhD students and two masters, and supervise numerous undergraduate research projects in their final year of study.  

Teaching responsibilities

I'm currently teaching on a wide range of modules throughout years 4,5,6 and 7. Modules include; Evolution of Life, Ecosystems, Molecular Biology, Rainforests, Deserts and Oceans, Habitat Management, Tropical Marine Biology, Biology in Practice and Ecological Consultancy. I also supervise students on their 3rd year Independent Research projects, Masters projects and PhDs.

Professional interests

Current Roles, Responsibilities & Skills

  • Experience with molecular screening techniques and immune-histology including; Primer design, PCR, qPCR of specific genes and microbial pathogens, DGGE, TRFLP, FISH, cloning and culture techniques (inc single cell isolates), microsatellites, 454 pyro-sequencing, illumina RNA seq, ion torrent, immuno-histological stains (Mason-Fontana, Nigrosin, Silver Staining, Apoptosis Assays)
  • Experience with analysis programs including; PRIMER, R, SPSS, Minitab, GeniousPro
  • Co-supervisor for PhD, master and undergraduate thesis projects
  • Lecturer on modules and field courses for undergraduates
  • Manuscript Reviewer for Coral Reefs, PLOS one, PEERJ, Marine Biology and many more
  • Consultant for the marine laboratory – Korallion Laboratory, Maldives - www.korallionlab.com 
  • Consultant for a commercial company called Surescreen on molecular techniques - www.surescreen.com
  • Tropical Marine Expert and Advisor for Brindle and Green Ecological Consultancy 
  • Member of the Coral Aquarist Research Network
  • Trustee for the registered charity the Olive Ridley Project
  • Editorial manager for the journal 'Marine Biodiversity Records'
  • Committee member for the Reef Conservation UK conference and the 2017 European Coral Reef Symposium

Research interests

My Major Research Interests are in epidemiology, microbial interactions with hosts, the roles pathogens play in disease causation, immune responses of hosts to specific diseases and ways to manage or mitigate spread of disease. My main focus is marine biology, and in particular I focus on coral reefs and tropical oceans. I do, however, also work with nanoparticles and eDNA.

Current Post Doctorate Research Associates

Position Vacant - Assessment, detection and treatment of Mycobacterium in aquarium environments

Dr Alfred Burian - Exploring the use of network analysis for advancing coral microbiome research 

Current PhD Students

James Robson - Quantification of the impacts environmental parameters have on Jellyfish development, growth and reproduction. 

Martin Stelfox - The issue surrounding ghost gear in the Indian Ocean.

Chris Troth - The use and improved functionality of environmental DNA (eDNA) within wildlife conservation and consultancy

Jamie Craggs - Understanding the mechanisms of sexual reproduction of broadcast spawning reef building corals

Quentin Mauvisseau - Alternative methods for assessing habitat quality in waterways throughout Europe 

Current MRes Students

Brynn Jenkins - The role of hetertrophic feeding in reef building corals and its relation to increased tolerance in the face of climate change

Past MRes Students

Grace Humphrey - Female mate choice in a Lake Malawi cichlid Aulonocara stuartgranti

David Slade - Survivorship of micorbial communities in space

PhD positions available in our group

Crayfish conservation: using eDNA to detect endangered and invasive species - based at the University of Bristol see https://t.co/zsL5K4AHkc for more information

Untangling the origin and movement of ghost nets in the Indian Ocean to aid management and mitigation - based at the University of Bristol. For more information please click here.

Membership of professional bodies

I am a member of the Coral Aquarist Research Network (CARN), the Society of General Microbiology, the Society of Invertebrate Pathology and the International Society of Reef Studies.



2007-2011 - PhD ‘Factors controlling the microbial community associated with reef building corals’ at Newcastle University. PI: Prof John Bythell

2001-2004 - BSc in Zoology at Newcastle University 2.1 (with hons)

Post-Doctorate Experience

2011 - 2013 NERC funded: ‘Re-evaluation of the emergence of reef coral diseases based on the importance of ciliate infections’ at Newcastle University. PI: Prof John Bythell

Recent publications

Blockley A, Sweet MJ et al. 2017 Symbiotic microbes from marine invertebrates: driving a new era of natural product drug discovery. Diversity 9 (4) 

Grimsditch G, Sweet MJ et al. 2017 Variation in size frequency distribution of coral populations under different fishing pressures in two contrasting locations in the Indian Ocean. Marine Environmental Research 131, 146-155

Johan O, Budianto A, Sweet MJ 2017 'Yellow Syndrome' in scleractinian corals throughout Bintain District, Kepulauan Riau Province, Indonesia. Indonesia Aquaculture Journal 12(1) 37-42

Craggs J, Sweet MJ et al. 2017 Inducing broadcast coral spawning ex -situ: closed system mesocosm design and husbandry protocol. Ecology and Evolutions DOI:10.1002/ece3.3538

Moritz C, Sweet MJ et al. 2017 The "resort effect": Can tourist islands act as refuges for coral reef species? Biodiversity Research DOI:10.1111/ddi.12627

Rowe G, Sweet MJ, Beebee T 2017 An introduction to Molecular Ecology. Oxford University Press

Pisapia C, Sweet MJ et al. 2017 Baseline assessment of coral reefs on North Ari Atoll, Maldives. IUCN Technical Report

Sweet MJ et al. 2017 Designer reefs and coral probiotics: great concepts but are they good practice? Biodiversity 1-4

Sweet MJ et al. 2017 Evidence for rapid, tide related shifts in the microbiome of the coral Coelastrea aspera. Coral Reefs

Sweet MJ, Bulling M 2017 On the importance of the microbiome and pathobiome in coral health and disease. Frontiers in Marine Sciences https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2017.00009 

Sweet MJ, Bythell JC 2016 The role of viruses in coral health and disease. Journal of Invertebrate Biology http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jip.2016.12.005

Sweet MJ,Brown B 2016Coral responses to anthropogenic stress in the twenty-first century: an ecophysiological perspective. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 54: 271-314

Ponti, M, Sweet MJ et al. 2016 Baseline reef health surveys at Bangka Island (North Sulawesi, Indonesia) reveal new threats. PEERJ e2614 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2614

Lerebours, A, Sweet MJ et al. 2016 Molecular changes in skin pigmented lesions of the coral trout Plectropomus leopardus. Marine Environmental Research 120: 130-135.

Stelfox M, Sweet MJ et al. 2016 A review of ghost gear entanglement amongst marine mammals, reptiles and elasmobranchs. Marine Pollution Bulletin doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.06.034

Cook J, Sweet MJ et al. 2016 Metabolome-mediated biocryomorphic evolution promotes carbon fixation in Greenlandic cryoconite holes. Environmental Microbiology doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13349

Sweet MJ et al. 2016 New disease outbreak affects two dominant sea urchin species associated with Australian temperate reefs. Marine Ecological Progress Series 551 doi: 10.3354/meps11750

Johan O, Sweet MJ et al. 2016 Prevalence and Incidence of Black Band Disease of Scleractinian Corals in the Kepulauan Seribu Region of Indonesia. Diversity 8, 11.

Sweet MJ, et al. 2016 Juvenile “black teatfish” in Maldives. SPC Beche-de-mer Information Bulletin #36

Chandler JF, Sweet MJ, et al. 2016 Influence of Resource Availability on the Foraging Strategies of the Triangle Butterflyfish Chaetodon triangulum in the Maldives. PloS one: e0151923.

Croquer, A, Sweet MJ et al. 2016 Is Acropora palmata recovering? A case study in Los Roques National Park, Venezula. PEERJ, DOI 10.7717/peerj.1539

Williams AD, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 Age-Related Shifts in Bacterial Diversity in a Reef Coral. PloS one, 10(12).

Miller J, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 Baseline coral disease surveys within three marine parks in Sabah, Borneo. PeerJ, 3:e1391

Sweet MJ, Singleton I 2015 Soil contamination with silver nanoparticles reduces Bishop pine growth and ectomycorrhizal diversity on pine roots. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 14 (448)

Johan O, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 The distribution and abundance of black band disease and white syndrome in Kepulauan Seribu, Indonesia. HAYATI Journal of Biosciences.

Hind E, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 Fostering effective international collaboration for marine science in small island states. Front. Mar. Sci. (2015

Pisapia C, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 Geographically conserved rates of background mortality among common reef-building corals in Lhaviyani Atoll, Maldives versus northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Marine Biology 162.8 (2015): 1579-1586.

Sere MG, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 Identification of a bacterial pathogen associated with Porites white patch syndrome in the Western Indian Ocean. Molecular Ecology 24(17) 4570-4581

Sweet MJ, Bateman K 2015 Diseases in marine invertebrates associated with mariculture and commercial fisheries. Journal of Sea Research doi:10.1016/j.seares.2015.06.016

Sweet MJ, Sere M 2015 Ciliate Communities Consistently Associated with Coral Diseases. Journal of Sea Research doi:10.1016/j.seares.2015.06.008

Sweet MJ, Bythell JC 2015 White Syndrome in Acropora muricata: Non-specific bacterial infection and ciliate histophagy Molecular Ecology 24(5) 1150-1159

Smith D, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 Microbial communities associated with healthy and white syndrome-affected Echinopora lamellose in aquaria and experimental treatment with the antibiotic ampicillin. PLoS one 10(3): e0121780

Sweet MJ, et al. 2015 A novel sponge disease caused by a consortium of micro-organisms. Coral Reefs 1-13

Brown BE, Sweet MJ et al. 2015 Decadal environmental ‘memory’ in a reef coral? Marine Biology DOI: 10.1007/s00227-014-2596-2

Johan, O, Sweet MJ et al. 2014 Microbial community of black band diseased Montipora sp. colonies at Seribu islands, Indonesia. Indonesian Aquaculture Journal 9(2), 1-11

Sweet MJ et al. 2014 Experimental antibiotic treatment identifies potential pathogens of white band disease in the endangered Caribbean coral Acropora cervicornis Proc Roy Soc B vol. 281 no. 1788 20140094

Smith D, Sweet MJ et al. 2014 A novel investigation of a blister-like syndrome in aquarium Echinopora lamellosa PLoS one 9(5), [e97018].

Sweet MJ et al. 2013 Algae as reservoirs for coral pathogens. PLOS One 8(7): e69717

Scriven L, Sweet MJ, Port G 2013 Flower Density Is More Important Than Habitat Type for Increasing Flower Visiting Insect Diversity. International Journal of Ecology

Sweet MJ et al. 2013 Assessment of the microbial communities associated with ‘White Syndrome’ in Aquarium corals. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research. 1(1) 20-27

Sweet MJ et al. 2013 Characterisation of the bacterial and fungal communities associated with different lesion sizes of Dark Spot Syndrome occurring in the coral Stephanocoenia intersepta. PLoS one 8(4): e62580

Sweet MJ 2013 Symbiodinium diversity within Acropora muricata micro-compartments and those available within the surrounding environment. Marine Ecology DOI: 10.1111/maec.12092

Sweet MJ et al. 2013 Changes in microbial diversity associated with two coral species recovering from a stressed state in a public aquarium system. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research. 1(2) 52- 60

Sheridan S, Sweet MJ, et al. 2013 Diseases in coral aquaculture: causes, implications and preventions. Aquaculture. 396-399: 124-135

Croquer A, Sweet MJ et al. 2012 Bacterial assemblage shifts from healthy to yellow band disease states in the dominant reef coral Montastraea faveolata. Environmental Microbiology Reports 5(1) 90-96

Sweet MJ et al. 2012 Microsatellites for microbiologists. In: Gadd, G, ed. Advances in Applied Microbiology: 81, 169-207

Sweet MJ et al. 2012 Metal based nanoparticles; size, function and areas for advancement in applied microbiology. In: Gadd, G, ed. Advances in Applied Microbiology: 80:113-142 - 22794146

Caven, D.J. Sweet, MJ et al. 2012 A comparative study of aggression and spatial differences between two populations of Pagurus bernhardus Journal of Young Investigators: 24(3), 1-13 (NA)

Sweet MJ et al. 2012 Evidence of melanoma in the coral trout Plectropomus leopardus in the Indo Pacific PLoS one: 7(8):e41989 

Sweet MJ, Bythell JC. 2012 Ciliate and bacterial communities associated with White Syndrome and Brown Band Disease in reef building corals Environmental Microbiology: 14(8):2184-99.

Sweet MJ, Singleton I. 2011 Silver Nanoparticles: A Microbial Perspective. In Advances in Applied Microbiology: Edition 1 chapter 5 ISBN: 978-0-12-3887044-5

Sweet MJ et al. 2011 Bacterial assemblages differ between compartments within the coral holobiont. Coral Reefs: 30(1), 39-52

Sweet MJ et al. 2011 Development of bacterial biofilms on artificial corals in comparison to surface-associated microbes of hard corals. PLoS one: 6(6), e21195

Sweet MJ et al. 2011 Dynamics of bacterial community development in the reef coral Acropora muricata following experimental antibiotic treatment. Coral Reefs: 30(4), 1121-1133

Sweet MJ etal. 2011 Coral diseases in aquaria and in nature. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Sweet MJ et al. 2010 Temporal and Spatial Patterns in Waterborne Bacterial Communities of an Island Reef System. Aquatic Microbial Ecology: 61(1), 1-11 

Recent conferences

Oral Presentations at Professional Conferences

Sweet, MJ. 2017 When the Grey Death Strikes. European Coral Reef Symposium, Oxford, UK

Sweet, MJ. 2016 Coral diseases; what we know and where we need to go. Society of Invertebrate Biology, Tours, France

Sweet, MJ. 2016 The coral microbiome, implications for adpatation and aclimitization. International Coral Reef Symposium, Hawaii, USA

Sweet, MJ. 2016 The life of an early career researcher. Napier University, Edinburgh

Sweet, MJ. 2016 Coral reefs in the face of climate change. Napier University, Edinburgh

Sweet, MJ. 2016 Describing novel diseases associated with aquaculture and the use of eDNA as an early detection of potential pathogens. Newton Researcher Links Workshop "Scientific, technological and social solutions for sustainable aquaculture in Thailand: a key player in global aquatic food supply"

Sweet, MJ. 2015 The need for a holistic approach to disease causation - a look back over 6 years of research. Reef Conservation UK

Sweet, MJ. 2013 Case of the Black Spot. In the coral trout, Plectropomus leopardus Reef Conservation UK 

Sweet, MJ. 2013 White Band Disease in the endangered Caribbean Coral Acropora cervicornis. A multi-pathogen bacterial infection and ciliate histophagy. Reef Conservation UK

Sweet, MJ. 2013 Coral reefs and the grim reaper. Charles Darwin Award Lecture, British Scinece Association, Newcastle

Sweet, MJ. and Bythell, JC. 2012 Are Ciliates Key Infectious Agents of Coral Diseases? International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns. 

Sweet, MJ. 2012 Systematic description of an unknown disease; the case of the black spot. Reef Conservation UK

Sweet, MJ. 2011 Ciliate and bacterial communities associated with White Syndrome and Brown Band Disease in reef building corals. Reef Conservation UK

Sweet, MJ. and Bythell, JC. 2010 Are ciliates the key infectious agents of White Syndrome? Reef Conservation UK

Sweet, MJ.  2010 Investigation of the controls on bacterial community development in the reef coral A. muricata using experimental antibiotic treatment. Reef Conservation UK

Sweet, MJ. 2010 Bacterial assemblages differ between compartments within the coral holobiont. International Society for Reef Studies in Amsterdam.

Sweet, MJ. 2009 Bacterial Communities associated with the Surface Mucus Layer of reef corals. Reef Conservation UK

Sweet, MJ. 2009 A realistic measure of the supply of bacteria from the water column to the coral surface mucus layer. Environmental Marine Biology Conference in Liverpool

Poster Presentations at Professional Conferences

Sweet, MJ. 2013 A Novel Urchin Disease. An Ecosystem on the Brink of Collapse. Reef Conservation UK, Zoological Society of London 

Craggs J, Sweet MJ. 2012 An investigation of White Syndrome in Aquarium Corals. 8th International Aquarium Congress, Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town, South Africa

Leal MC, Sheridan C, Kramarsky-Winter E, Sweet MJ, Kushmaro A. 2012 Diseases in coral aquaculture: causes, implications and preventions. AQUA (European and World Aquaculture Society Meeting), Prague, Czech Republic.

Craggs J, Sweet MJ. 2011 Advanced coral disease research; a modern collaborative approach 14th National Aquarium Workshop, Living Coast Aquarium, Torquay

Sweet, MJ. 2007 Relationships between water borne and coral bacteria – a new perspective International Coral Reef Symposium in Florida  

Invited Talks

Sweet, MJ. 2017 The role of the coral microbiome in health and disease. University of Exeter, UK

Sweet, MJ. 2016 Ecophysiological responses of corals in the C21st. University of Guam, USA

Sweet, MJ. 2015 The use of public aquariums in scientific research. National Aquarium Conference, Birmingham, UK

Sweet, MJ. 2014 A New Research Initiative in the Indian Ocean. International Marine Conservation Congress, Glasgow, UK

Sweet, MJ. 2014 Cause and consequence of diseases in coral reef systems.Newcastle University

Sweet, MJ. 2014 Ciliated Diseases in Corals. Ecology and Evolution of Marine Parasites and Diseases, Texel, Netherlands

Sweet, MJ. 2012 Survey methods for coral disease. International workshop on monitoring and survey methods in coral reefs. School of Marine Studies, University of the South Pacific, Fiji.

Sweet, MJ. 2012 Aquarium coral diseases; introducing a new website for identification. The Big Experiment, Coral Aquarist Research Network, Zoological Society of London, UK

Sweet, MJ. 2011 Microorganisms and their role in coral diseases. Marine Ecology Group, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

Sweet, MJ. 2009 Corals; Bacterial Worlds. James Cook University, Australia

Experience in industry

We offer a microbial analysis service to anyone interested in research or specific pathogen identification. Our particular focus at the moment is with the aquarium industry, zoos and aquariums. We also work on eDNA as a Molecular Consultant with Surescreen and a Marine Advisor for Brindle and Green Ecological Consultancy.

International experience

My work has taken me all over the world to conduct field based research, present lectures and attend or host workshops.

In the media

My research has received considerable press coverage.

In particular, articles on the discovery of skin cancer in wild fish were published in New Scientist, LA Time, Science Now, Scientific America, Nature Reviews Cancer to name a few. For a good summary of this work, see the funding bodies website - http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=1264

My recent award lecture presented to the British Science Festival on 'Coral Reefs and the Grim Reaper' can be seen on http://www.ncl.ac.uk/events/sciencefest/video/charles-darwin-award.php 

and a recent pod cast with the Guardian on 'Why Corals Catch Colds' can be accessed by http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2013/nov/18/podcast-science-weekly-coral-health 

See also: http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=1707 and http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25743-bacterial-suspects-identified-in-caribbean-coral-deaths.html#.U6wnVKRwaUk 

Bacterial suspects identified in Caribbean coral deaths; New Scientist https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25743-bacterial-suspects-identified-in-caribbean-coral-deaths/

Also please follow me on twitter @DiseaseMatters for regular updates and interesting tweets about my work and related topics.

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