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Curtin University


Professor Kliti Grice

Professor Kliti Grice Professor Kliti Grice
Position John Curtin Distinguished Professor
Faculty Faculty of Science & Engineering
School School of Science
Department Dept of Chemistry
Campus Bentley Campus
Location 500.2116
Phone +618 9266 2474
Fax +618 9266 2300

Brief Summary

Professor Kliti Grice Grice is an internationally renowned organic geochemist who creatively combines geological information with data on molecular fossils and their stable carbon and hydrogen isotopic compositions to reconstruct details of microbial, fungal and floral inhabitants of ancient aquatic environments. She is especially well known for identifying a geological and environmental basis for the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history, which happened at the end of the Permian Period, about 252 million years ago.

Grice’s research over the years has integrated molecular and isotopic information on plant and algal physiology, microbial ecology, food-webs, organic chemistry, petroleum geochemistry and geology with our planet's history. In particular, she has shown how some of the major biological extinction events of the geological past can be traced to factors intrinsic to the Earth system, as opposed to external factors such as asteroid impacts. Analyses of the natural variation in stable isotopes of lipids present in controlled growth experiments from extant plants, algae and grazing organisms carried out by Grice have provided new insights into how these systems function across paleoecological to modern timescales and across a wide range of spatial scales.

Grice’s outstanding research reputation has also attracted many national and international PhD and postdoctoral scholars to the wonders of Earth science. She provides training and mentorship to students coming from a wide array of scientific disciplines, including chemistry, biology, geology and environmental science. In addition, the training of research students at the PhD and Masters level, as well as early career researchers, is the prime focus of the world-class organic and isotope geochemistry centre that she has established at Curtin University.


Anoxygenic Photosynthesis in Ancient Seas Grice’s first major scientific breakthrough, in 1995, involved measurements and interpretations of the stable carbon isotopic compositions of maleimides (small, polar, nitrogen-containing molecules) in sedimentary organic matter. She identified these compounds, which are derived uniquely from the chlorophylls of oxygenic photosynthetic organisms (e.g., cyanobacteria and algae) and bacteriochlorophylls of anoxygenic photosynthetic organisms (e.g., green sulfur bacteria, the Chlorobi), obtained from highly anoxic sedimentary deposits by their mass spectra and isotopic compositions.

Chlorobi can play a significant role in the sulfur cycle at the chemocline of stratified lakes and ocean basins such as the Black Sea. They are strict anaerobes, utilising hydrogen sulfide during photosynthesis to fix CO2 via the reversed tricarboxylic acid cycle, resulting in a 13C enrichment of lipids that renders them distinct from the lipids of other phytoplankton. Thus, the combination of chemical structures and stable isotopic compositions allowed her to unambiguously identify which maleimides originated from the Chlorobi. Grice also discovered an array of diagenetic alteration products from the secondary pigments (carotenoids) of the Chlorobi. Notably, her research inspired others to investigate the nitrogen isotopic compositions of maleimides, thus leading to a new tool for studying the marine nitrogen cycle in ancient oceans.

Grice’s multidisciplinary research approach has provided the best direct molecular and isotopic evidence for the role of anoxygenic photosynthesis in ancient seas in accounting for biogeochemical changes that occur during oceanic anoxic events and the deposition of rocks offering significant petroleum potential. Research led by Grice suggests that about 252 million years ago, a climate-related biogeochemical ‘event’ jolted the world so profoundly that atmospheric O2 levels became low concomitantly with the rise of toxic concentrations of CO2 and H2S. The Earth’s thermostat went awry and the ocean circulation became sluggish leading to the extinction of as much as 90% of marine and 75% of terrestrial eukaryotic species. Unlike a later extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs, the event that ended the Palaeozoic Era, 252 million years ago, appears not to have been triggered by the impact of a meteorite but, rather, by the climatic effects associated with the aggregation of the ancient supercontinent Pangea.

In reaching this conclusion, Grice first showed that Chlorobi were abundant organisms in the upper part of the water-column of the Late Permian seas at several widely-spaced locations, including Australia and China, thereby implying that the hydrogen sulfide, on which they depend, must have been prevalent as well. Release of sulfide into the atmosphere, therefore, probably also played a critical role in the extinction on land. Grice subsequently identified Chlorobi-derived biomarkers globally, using a novel multidisciplinary approach (biomarker data, fossil data, palynology, sulfur isotopes and compound specific carbon and hydrogen isotopes. More recently, she proposed that the collapse of the marine and terrestrial ecosystems led to high amounts of recycled 13C-depleted CO2 in the earliest Triassic oceans and atmosphere, thus explaining the world-wide carbon isotope excursion. In a 380 million year old concretion from the Canning Basin, WA, fossilised soft tissue from a crustacean we have revealed biomarkers & stable isotopes from Chlorobi and sulfate reducing bacteria.

The adjacent matrix only contained evidence of sulfate reducing bacteria that lived at the sediment/water interface and were involved in the formation of the carbonate concretion in a closed system. H2S in the paleowater column played a pivotal role in the preservation of the organism. Biodegradation of Petroleum by Subsurface Microbes In 1998, Grice expanded her research interests into petroleum geochemistry and petroleum biodegradation. She was the first to investigate the susceptibility of biphenyls and alkylbiphenyls to bacterial degradation, and later established that diamondoids (cage-shaped carbon skeletons) are also broken down. This research has enabled petroleum explorers to better understand subsurface processes, thus reducing exploration risk.

This research has implications for the petroleum industry because these processes reduce the quality of the oils. Isotopic Fractionation in Present-day Organisms Compound-specific isotope measurements of biomarkers are increasingly important for palaeoclimate reconstructions. In order to accurately interpret the stable carbon and hydrogen isotopic patterns found in sedimentary lipids, a fundamental understanding of the isotopic fractionations that occur in diverse living systems is essential. In 1998 Grice performed seminal zooplankton herbivory studies based on stable carbon isotopes. The stable carbon isotopic compositions of cholesterol, generally the dominant sterol of copepods, retain the signature of their dietary precursor sterols. The carbon isotopic composition of cholesterol in the faecal pellets released from copepods is identical to that of the sterols in the diet, indicating that no significant carbon isotopic fractionation effects occur when the copepod modifies algal precursor sterols to cholesterol.

This and other research on the isotopic composition of faecal pellets demonstrated that carbon isotopic compositions of sedimentary steroids may serve as conservative tracers of the algal community on which zooplankton feed. This study provided the basis for the identification of a 380 million year old invertebrate fossil in a carbonate nodule as a crustacean based on the stable carbon isotopic composition and abundance of cholestane within the fossil nucleus. Other carbon isotopic studies carried out on Nicotiana tabacum leaf wax by Grice have provided a qualitative phytochemical explanation of the observed δ13C differences among n-alkane, iso-alkane and anteiso-alkane and a physiological explanation for the observed δ13C shifts when environmental conditions of growth change.

Grice and co-workers have also proposed a new biosynthetic pathway leading to even carbon numbered n-alkane biosynthesis in plant was and sediments that also accounts for the previously enigmatic ‘saw-tooth’ that is evident in the isotopic patterns of fossil hydrocarbons. H-Isotopic Exchange in Fossil Hydrocarbons Grice’s research has also extended to the technically challenging task of determining the hydrogen isotopic composition of individual biomolecules. She was the first to show that, with increasing burial temperatures, isoprenoidal lipids become enriched in deuterium whereas the acetogenic lipids generally remain constant. A more rapid enrichment of deuterium in isoprenoids relative to alkanes with increasing temperature identifies a hydrogen exchange process that has been elegantly described by Grice.

Further, the hydrogen isotopic differentials between the isoprenoidal and n-alkyl compound classes correlate well with vitrinite reflectance values, indicating that hydrogen isotope compositions are useful for measuring thermal history over a wider range than are most conventional parameters. Many of Grice’s research achievements have been underpinned by the development of state-of-the-art analytical technology and protocols to support the high-resolution characterisation of the molecular and stable isotopic compositions of environmentally significant organic compounds. Her superb analytical skills and expertise have been broadly applied to elucidate the origins and preservation pathways of numerous natural and synthetic substances found in sedimentary environments, with implications for forensics, the provenance of food, carbon cycling, impact of humans on the environment as well as air. For example, Grice and her team have been able to use the carbon and hydrogen compositions of atmospheric volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for establishing their sources: forest fires, diesel fuels or industrial emissions.

These are exceedingly difficult measurements which were achieved using thermal desorption in combination with compound-specific isotope analysis. Grice and team have also demonstrated the improved separation of higher plant biomarkers in crude oils and a learning set of rock extracts (from the Arctic) of the Tertiary using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC x GC) coupled to a time-of-flight mass spectrometer (TOF). Higher plant biomarkers have great potential for high resolution molecular chronostratigraphy of the Tertiary (including Cenozoic), thus, stimulating significant interest in the study of angiosperm derived biomarker distribution in geological samples of unknown age. However, they occur in various compound classes with an array of isomers that are challenging to separate and identify. GC x GC TOF provides an extra dimension in assessing the composition of the so-called ‘Unresolved complex mixture’ for oils that have been heavily degraded by microbial communities, unravelling a wealth of important new molecular information. Significantly, use of the above analytical technologies for exploration purposes will alleviate the time & expense of drilling for source-rocks for oil-source correlation to determine the age of the oil.

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Memberships, Awards and Training


2012- American Geophysical Union, Patterson award commitee.

2011-current CSIRO Cluster Leader of Minerals Down-under collaboration cluster fund, Australia.

2010-current Scientific Advisory Committee Sinopec Petroleum Exploration Research, WUXI, China Member of the Geological Society of Australia Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute

2010-current Chair of the ‘Best Paper Award’ Committee of the Organic Geochemistry Division, Geological Society of America (GSA) 2009–current Committee member of the European Association of Organic Geochemistry (EAOG) International Pieter Scheck Award

2009–2012 ARC College of Experts (Discovery Project and Linkage Project grants: Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences)

2009- current Executive member of the Australia and New Zealand Mass Spectrometry Society

2009-current Member of the Research and Development Committee of the Department of Chemistry, Curtin University

2008–2010 Board of the University Research and Development Committee, Curtin University

2008–2010 Board of the Research and Development Committee of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Curtin University

2008–current International Geoscience Program 572 (Project Leader): Restoration of Marine Ecosystems following the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction

2008–current Member, American Association of Petroleum Geologists

2007–current Member, Geological Society of America (GSA)

2007–2009 Member ‘Best Paper Award’ Committee of the Organic Geochemistry Division, GSA

2007–current Committee member of the EAOG Travel Awards

2007 Appointed ARC College of Experts – Linkage Infrastructure grants

1998–current Member, Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia

1998–current Member, Royal Australian Chemical Institute

1998–current Australasian Research Management Society, WA Chapter

1994–current Member, European Association of Organic Geochemistry AWARDS

2012 RACI Environmental medal to be presented in Dec 2012 and medallist lecture

2011 Award for the highest RPI 2010 Division for Science and Engineering

2010 VC Award for Excellence & Innovation at Curtin University, Finalist award

2010 Award for highest research performance index in Curtin University and in Faculty.

2009 Faculty Senior Researcher of the Year Award for Science, Curtin University

2008 Australian Research Council (ARC) QEII Fellowship (II)

2007 Faculty Researcher of the Year Award for Science (under 40), Curtin University

2002 The Premier’s Inaugural Science Award for Early Career Achievement in Science, Western Australia

2002 JG Russell Award, Australian Academy of Science for QEII research

2002 Dean’s Medallion for Emerging Research Effort, Division of Engineering and Science, Curtin University

2002 ARC QEII fellowship (I)

2001 International Pieter Schenck Award presented by the European Association of Organic Geochemistry for outstanding contributions in Organic Geochemistry Student and Staff Awards

Please see

Conference organization Organising committee of 2011

International Permian and Carboniferous Conference, UWA, Perth WA

Organising Committee of 2011 ANZSMS conference,

2010 Convenor of Australian Isotope/Environmental and Hydrogeology conference at Curtin University,

2009 Gordon Research Conference joint session chair on biodegradation,

2008 Gordon Research Conference session chair on ‘Hot Topics’,

2008 Convenor of Australian Organic Geochemistry Conference,

2006 Session Organising Chair at the 16th Annual V.M. Goldschmidt Conference, Melbourne,

2006 Session Organising Chair at the American Chemical Society, Orlando,

2002 Associate editor Organic Geochemistry, 2007–present Geology, 2007–2010;

2012-present Journal reviewer Organic Geochemistry Environmental Science and Technology, Chemical Geology, Geology Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Paleo3 Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Applied Geochemistry, Analytical Chemistry Journal of Chromatography, Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Science, Nature, Geoscience

Grant reviewer UK Natural Environment Research Council,

1998–present Australian Research Council – International and Oz reader,

2001–2009 USA National Science Foundation,

2007–present American Chemical Society – Petroleum research fund,

1998–present Dutch Research Foundation,

2002–present German Research Foundation,

2002–present Student supervision PhD student supervision

2011: Alexander Holman APA

2011: Anais Pages: ARC Discovery (Grice)/ CIRTS

2010: Ines Melendez: ARC QEII (Grice)/CIRTS

2009: Svenja Tulipani: Curtin University Targeted Scholarship/CIRTS

2009: Mojgan Ladjavardi: Curtin University/CIRTS

2008: Salem Aboglila: Curtin University – completed

2007: Christiane Eiserbeck: Curtin University/Chevron- completed

2006: Ercin Maslen: Curtin University/ CUPSA – completed

2006: Dawn White: Curtin University/CRC-WQT/CIRTS – in preparation

2006: Birgit Nabbefeld: Curtin University/ARC/ CIRTS – completed

2006: Christian Hallmann: Curtin University/ CIRTS – completed

2006: Christiane Vitzthum Von Eckstaedt: Curtin University/CRC-CARE – completed

2005: Luc Fusetti: Curtin University/ IFP/ Cotutelle – completed and VC commendation

2004: Tamara Pilgrim: Curtin University/UWA – completed

2003: Daniel Dawson: Curtin University-APA – completed Collaborating PhD student supervision

2012: Aileen Robert: University of Western Australia

2009: Anthony Hall: University of Adelaide- in progress

2006: Lyndsay Hays: MIT, US- completed

2004: Pia Atahan: University of Western Australia – completed

2002: Pauline Chau: University of Western Australia – completed Honours and Masters student supervision

1998–present: 2 Masters, 25 Honours, 4 French Internships, 3 Pakistan Internships and 2 BioGenius students.

Research fellows (mentor) Dr Ken Williford Dr Katherine Trinajstic Dr Pia Atahan Dr Tobias Ertefai Dr Caroline Jaraula Dr Youping Zhou Dr Robert Lockhart Dr Pierre Le Metayer Dr Jeffrey Dick Dr Martijn Woltering Dr Alison Blyth Dr Lyndon Berwick

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Employment History


Department of Chemistry Curtin University Kent Street, Bentley WA 6102

Tel +61 8 9266 2474;

Fax +61 8 9266 2300




Professor of Organic and Isotope Geochemistry, Curtin University – since December 2007


2008 – current Founding Director, Western Australian Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Centre (founding director);

Australian Research Council (ARC) QEII Fellow (II)

2007 Professor of Organic and Isotope Geochemistry, Curtin University

2003 Associate Professor of Organic and Isotope Geochemistry, Curtin University

2002–2007 ARC (QEII) Fellow (I), WA State Centre for Excellence in Applied Organic Geochemistry, Curtin University Leader of the Stable Isotope and Biogeochemistry Research Group

1998–2002 Senior Research Fellow, John de Laeter State Centre for Excellence in Mass Spectrometry, Curtin University

1995–1998 Research Fellow, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Texel, The Netherlands EDUCATION

1995 Doctor of Philosophy (University of Bristol, UK)

1991 Bachelor of Science in Applied Chemistry (Honours), University of Kingston, London, UK

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Research Interests

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For grants

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Specialty Areas

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