Staff profile

Dr Michael Sweet

Professor in Molecular Ecology

Dr Michael Sweet out on a field trip


Biology and Zoology


College of Science and Engineering


School of Built and Natural Environment

Research centre

Environmental Sustainability Research Centre




Kedleston Road, Derby Campus



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 100 research articles in peer-reviewed journals in the past 10 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 three PhD students, and supervise numerous undergraduate research projects in their final year of study.

Teaching responsibilities

I teach on a wide range of modules throughout years four, five, six and seven, including; Evolution of Life, Molecular Biology, Invertebrates, Rainforests, Deserts and Oceans, Habitat Management, Tropical Marine Biology, and Independent Studies. 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
  • Supervisor and Co-supervisor for PhD, master and undergraduate thesis projects
  • Lecturer on modules and field courses for undergraduates
  • Manuscript Reviewer for Nature Climate Change, Coral Reefs, Molecular Ecology, Marine Biology and many more
  • Consultant for a commercial company called Surescreen on molecular techniques 
  • Consultant for the United Natons on plastics and their effect on reefs
  • Tropical Marine Expert and Advisor for Brindle and Green Ecological Consultancy 
  • Trustee for the charity 'the Olive Ridley Project'
  • Associate Editor for 'Frontiers in Marine Science'
  • Officer for the International Coral Reef Society. 

Research interests

My research interests are broad and our group work on genomics, metabolomics, 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 (particularly probiotics). My main research focus is coral biology and the use of eDNA to describe the distribution and spread of rare, endangered or invasive species in freshwater ecosystems (see recent publications). 

Current PhD Students

  • Lea Barbett - Bridging the value action gap through nature connections: Measuring and improving conservation behaviours for human and nature’s well-being
  • Jack Greenhalgh - Crayfish conservation: using eDNA to detect endangered and invasive species (Joint with Bristol University)
  • Ole Brodnicke - Utilsing eDNA to assess the biodiversity of meiofauna in coral reef ecosystems and how they respond to climate change (Joint with University of Copenhagen)

Previous PhD Students

  • 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 

Past MRes Students

  • Grace Humphrey - Female mate choice in a Lake Malawi cichlid Aulonocara stuartgranti
  • David Slade - Survivorship of micorbial communities in space
  • Brynn Jenkins - The role of heterotrophic feeding in reef building corals and its relation to increased tolerance in the face of climate change

Previous Post Doctorate Research Associates

  • Dr Till Rothig - Exploring functionality of the coral microbiome
  • Dr Mathieu Sere - Exploring the impact of diurnal and seasonal cycles on aquatic microbes and their role in fish health
  • Dr Alfred Burian - Exploring the use of network analysis for advancing coral microbiome research 

PhD positions available in our group

Please enquire - only self funded PhDs are available at the moment.

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 conferences

Oral Presentations at Professional Conferences

  • Species-specific variation in the metabolomic profiles of Acropora hyachintus and Acropora millepora mask acute temperature stress effects in adult coral colonies. Reef Conservation UK 2019
  • When the Grey Death Strikes. European Coral Reef Symposium, Oxford, UK 2017
  • Coral diseases; what we know and where we need to go. Society of Invertebrate Biology, Tours, France 2016
  • The coral microbiome, implications for adaptation and acclimatization. International Coral Reef Symposium, Hawaii, USA 2016
  • The life of an early career researcher. Napier University, Edinburgh 2016
  • Coral reefs in the face of climate change. Napier University, Edinburgh 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" 2016
  • The need for a holistic approach to disease causation - a look back over 6 years of research. Reef Conservation UK 2015

Invited Talks

  • The role of the coral microbiome in health and disease. University of Exeter, UK 2017
  • Ecophysiological responses of corals in the C21st. University of Guam, USA 2016
  • The use of public aquariums in scientific research. National Aquarium Conference, Birmingham, UK 2015
  • A New Research Initiative in the Indian Ocean. International Marine Conservation Congress, Glasgow, UK 2014
  • Cause and consequence of diseases in coral reef systems.Newcastle University 2014
  • Ciliated Diseases in Corals. Ecology and Evolution of Marine Parasites and Diseases, Texel, Netherlands 2014

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

I regularly appear on local and national radio and our research has often appeared in the likes of New Scientist, LA Times, Science Now, and Scientific America, to name a few. As an example please see the Guardians article on our research entitled 'Why Corals Catch Colds'. 

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

Fish at coral reef

With World Oceans Day today highlighting the issue of plastic pollution, Dr Michael Sweet, Associate Professor in Aquatic Biology at the University of Derby, looks at the impact plastic has on coral and other marine life.   

For my most recent research, take a look at my ResearchGate profile.

Troth, C. R., Sweet, M. J., Nightingale, J., & Burian, A. (2021). Seasonality, DNA degradation and spatial heterogeneity as drivers of eDNA detection dynamics. Science of The Total Environment, 144466.

Troth, C. R., Burian, A., Mauvisseau, Q., Bulling, M., Nightingale, J., Mauvisseau, C., & Sweet, M. J. (2020). Development and application of eDNA-based tools for the conservation of white-clawed crayfish. Science of The Total Environment748, 141394.

Mauvisseau, Q., Kalogianni, E., Zimmerman, B., Bulling, M., Brys, R., & Sweet, M. (2020). eDNA‐based monitoring: Advancement in management and conservation of critically endangered killifish species. Environmental DNA2(4), 601-613.

Brys, R., Halfmaerten, D., Neyrinck, S., Mauvisseau, Q., Auwerx, J., Sweet, M., & Mergeay, J. (2020). Reliable eDNA detection and quantification of the European weather loach (Misgurnus fossilis). Journal of fish biology.

Mauvisseau, Q., Tönges, S., Andriantsoa, R., Lyko, F., & Sweet, M. (2019). Early detection of an emerging invasive species: eDNA monitoring of a parthenogenetic crayfish in freshwater systems. Management of Biological Invasions10(3), 461.

Mauvisseau, Q., Troth, C., Young, E., Burian, A., & Sweet, M. (2019). The development of an eDNA based detection method for the invasive shrimp Dikerogammarus haemobaphes. Management of Biological Invasions10(3), 449.

Mauvisseau, Q., Davy-Bowker, J., Bulling, M., Brys, R., Neyrinck, S., Troth, C., & Sweet, M. (2019). Combining ddPCR and environmental DNA to improve detection capabilities of a critically endangered freshwater invertebrate. Scientific reports9(1), 1-9.

Mauvisseau, Q., Burian, A., Gibson, C., Brys, R., Ramsey, A., & Sweet, M. (2019). Influence of accuracy, repeatability and detection probability in the reliability of species-specific eDNA based approaches. Scientific reports9(1), 1-10.

Peixoto, R. S., Sweet, M., Villela, H. D., Cardoso, P., Thomas, T., Voolstra, C. R., & Bourne, D. G. (2020). Coral Probiotics: Premise, Promise, Prospects. Annual review of animal biosciences9.

Duarte, G. A., Villela, H. D., Deocleciano, M., Silva, D., Barno, A., Cardoso, P. M., Sweet, M., & Peixoto, R. S. (2020). Heat waves are a major threat to turbid coral reefs in Brazil. Frontiers in Marine Science7, 179.

Stelfox, M., Burian, A., Shanker, K., Rees, A. F., Jean, C., Willson, M. S., & Sweet, M. (2020). Tracing the origin of olive ridley turtles entangled in ghost nets in the Maldives: A phylogeographic assessment of populations at risk. Biological Conservation245, 108499.

Stelfox, M., Lett, C., Reid, G., Souch, G., & Sweet, M. (2020). Minimum drift times infer trajectories of ghost nets found in the Maldives. Marine pollution bulletin154, 111037.

Peixoto, R. S., Sweet, M., & Bourne, D. G. (2019). Customized medicine for corals. Frontiers in Marine Science6, 686.

Craggs, J., Guest, J., Bulling, M., & Sweet, M. (2019). Ex situ co culturing of the sea urchin, Mespilia globulus and the coral Acropora millepora enhances early post-settlement survivorship. Scientific reports9(1), 1-12.

Stelfox, M., Bulling, M., & Sweet, M. (2019). Untangling the origin of ghost gear within the Maldivian archipelago and its impact on olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) populations. Endangered Species Research40, 309-320.

Sweet, M., Burian, A., Fifer, J., Bulling, M., Elliott, D., & Raymundo, L. (2019). Compositional homogeneity in the pathobiome of a new, slow-spreading coral disease. Microbiome7(1), 1-14.

Sweet, M. J., & Bulling, M. T. (2017). On the importance of the microbiome and pathobiome in coral health and disease. Frontiers in Marine Science4, 9.

a diver swimming round a coral reef

Helping corals survive

Our Aquatic Research Facility is carrying out work with organisations across the globe to make coral reefs more resilient in the face of man-made afflictions such as pollution and climate change.

Find out more about our corals researchFind out more about our corals research