Professor Koopman earned his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1986 for research on stem cell differentiation. He moved to London soon afterwards for a postdoctoral appointment in the Mammalian Development Unit at the Medical Research Council, where he conducted medical analyses of mouse embryo development. During a second postdoc, with the National Institute for Medical Research, he was part of the team who isolated the mouse Y-chromosome gene (now known as SRY) and demonstrated its role in sex determination by reversing the sex of XX-chromosome mice. The discovery is widely regarded as one of the major achievements in molecular genetics of the 20th century.

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Researcher biography

Peter Koopman is in the Division of Genomics of Development and Disease at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland, Australia. He was part of the team that discovered the Y-chromosomal sex-determining gene Sry in 1990, recognized as one of the most important breakthroughs in 20th century genetics. He heads a research team whose current work focuses on genes that regulate embryonic development, with special emphasis on the molecular genetics of sex development, fertility, gonadal cancers and intersex conditions.

Prof Koopman is author of over 270 scientific papers, including 5 in Nature, 7 in Nature Genetics, 2 in Science and 2 in Cell, which together have been cited 16000 times in the literature. He is Editor-in-Chief of Sexual Development and a member of the Faculty of 1000. Prof Koopman received the AMP Queensland Biomedical Research Award in 1992, the Julian Wells Medal in 1998, the Amersham-Pharmacia Biotech Medal in 2003, the President's Medal of the Australia and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology in 2005, the GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence in 2007, the Lemberg Medal in 2009 and the Royan International Research Award in 2016. He is a Senior Principal Research Fellow of the NHMRC and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.


I was awarded a PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1986, for research in stem cell differentiation. I undertook two postdoctdoral appointments in London, first at the Medical Research Council's Mammalian Development Unit, under Dr Anne McLaren, FRS, where I conducted a molecular analysis of mouse embryo development. My second postdoc was undertaken at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, with Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, FRS. There, we isolated the mouse Y-chromosomal gene Sry and demonstrated its role as the testis-determining gene by reversing the sex of XX transgenic mice. In 1992 I took up a research group leader position at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. From 2007-2012 I was a Federation Fellow of the ARC, and in 2008 was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

Key discoveries

  • The mammalian sex-determining gene Sry (1990) – The discovery of Sry is regarded as one of the major achievements in molecular genetics in the 20th century (4 papers in Nature, 1 in Cell, total 3159 citations).
  • The campomelic dysplasia/XY sex reversal gene Sox9 (1995) – Sox9 is now the focus of intense international research into its roles in chondrogenesis, skeletal disorders, stem cells and sex determination (2 papers in Nature Genetics, total 878 citations; >2000 papers in PubMed to date have Sox9 in the title/abstract).
  • Sox18, master regulator of lymphatic vessel development (2008) – Discovery of master switch genes regulating organ development is critical for stem cell biology and regenerative therapy. Sox18 is also a human disease gene, and is involved in tumour angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis, raising the possibility of Sox18-based therapeutics (Nature, 2008).
  • Regulation of germ cell fate in the embryo (2006) – We discovered that retinoic acid signalling initiates oogenesis in the fetal ovary, and that retinoid degradation combined with FGF9 activity in the testis blocks this pathway. Our discoveries overturned current dogma and set the course for research in developmental reproductive biology (Science, 2006; Dev Cell, 2012).

Research training

In all, I have trained over 120 scientists in my laboratory. These include 17 Honours students, 27 PhD students and 31 postdocs, many of whom have become lab heads at institutions including the MRC (UK), and Universities of Tokyo, Washington, Otago, Monash University and UQ.

I co-founded the Australian Developmental Biology Workshop in 2001, a training-ground for the next generation of developmental biologists in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. I was organiser of the Cold Spring Harbor summer course: Molecular Embryology of the Mouse, 1995 to 1998, considered the most prestigious training course for developmental biologists worldwide.

Professional activities

I am Chair of the Equity and Diversity Reference Group of the Australian Academy of Science, Chair of the Australian JSPS Alumni Association, on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Differentiation, on the Council of Gordon Research Conferences, a member of the Executive of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology, and a member of the DSD Subcommittee of the Australasia Pediatric Endocrinology Group.

I founded or co-founded the International Sox Conference, the Australian Sex Summit, the Australian DSD Clinical Symposia, the Brisbane Developmental Biology Seminar Series, and the UQ Program in Developmental Biology, and continue to play executive and organizational roles in those.

I am editor-in-chief of Sexual Development, the major specialist journal in its field, and have served on the editorial boards of Nature Reviews Genetics, Developmental Dynamics, Mechanisms of Development, Gene Expression Patterns, and ISRN Developmental Biology. I am a Prime Faculty member of the Faculty of 1000.

I have served on the Human Frontiers Science Program Review Committee for Fellowships (including as Co-Chair and Chair), the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee, the Management Group of the Australian Phenomics Network, the NHMRC Research Translation Faculty, the Asia Exchange Committee, the International Program Selection Committee, the Molecular and Cell Biology Sectional Committee and Chair of the Boden Conference Selection Committee for the Australian Academy of Science. I also served on the NHMRC Academy in 2008 and 2012, the NHMRC Genetics panel in 2010, and the ARC College of Experts, 2005-2007.

At UQ I serve as Director of the Queensland facility for Advanced Genome Engineering, and am Executive Director of Research Ethics and Integrity.