Dr. Russell Hill

Dr. Johan Schijf

Dr. Russell Hill Quicklinks:

Education and Experience

Student Research




Current Funded projects

IMET Website

Research Interests

  • Diversity and roles of microbial symbionts associated with marine invertebrates, in particular sponges
  • Marine microbes, including symbionts of marine invertebrates, as sources of novel bioactive compounds with pharmaceutical potential
  • Marine microalgae for production of biofuels and other bioproducts
  • Marine molecular microbiology

The major focus of research in my laboratory is the investigation of symbiotic bacteria associated with marine invertebrates, in particular, sponges. Sponges provide an excellent model system for understanding evolution of complex symbiotic interactions. Microbial communities associated with marine sponges are remarkably diverse, include novel bacteria not found in other ecosystems and closely related sponges have similar microbial communities. We are studying the diversity and functions of these communities. The role of symbiotic bacteria in nitrogen cycling in sponges is under investigation. Signaling compounds produced by sponge-associated bacteria are being investigated with our collaborator Dr. Clay Fuqua at Indiana University.

Many important compounds with pharmaceutical potential have been discovered in sponges and other invertebrates. In some cases, the compounds of interest are produced, not by the sponges themselves, but by bacteria associated with the sponges. We are identifying many of the bacteria present in sponges even if we cannot grow them, by cloning the genes encoding the 16S ribosomal RNA from these sponges. We can then rationally select culture conditions to be able to grow a higher proportion of the bacteria and, hopefully, find the ones that produce important compounds. We have isolated a Micromonospora sp. strain M42 from the Indonesian sponge Acanthostrongylophora that produces manzamine A, an antimalarial compound found in this sponge. We also succeeded in isolating symbiotic Vibrio sp. that produce kahalalide F, a promising anti-cancer compound first found in the Hawaiian mollusk Elysia rufescens. These projects are in collaboration with Dr. Mark Hamann at the School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi.  We also have research projects in the important first stage of the drug discovery process, focusing on discovery of unusual marine bacteria, in particular actinomycetes, that have a high potential of producing novel products.   

A new research area in my laboratory, in collaboration with colleagues Feng Chen, Yantao Li and Al Place at IMET, is production of biofuels and other useful compounds by marine microalgae.  My laboratory is studying the role of symbiotic bacteria that improve the growth and stability of microalgal cultures, and the use of bacteria to aggregate microalgae for efficient harvesting. We are exploring the use of microalgae to sequester CO2 from power plant flue gas emissions in collaboration with Maryland start-up biotech company Hy-Tek Bio.  

Education and Experience

2012-present.  Director and Professor, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

2010-2012.  Professor and Interim Associate Director, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

2009-2010.  Professor, Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB), University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI).

2007-2010.  Associate Director, COMB, UMBI.

2001-2009.  Associate Professor, COMB, UMBI.

2002-present.    Adjunct Associate and Full Professor, Department of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi.

1998-2001.  Senior Scientist, COMB, UMBI.

1997-2000.  Senior Lecturer, School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.  Conjoint.

1996-1998.  Research Scientist (Microbiology), Marine Bioproducts Group, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

1992-1996.  Research Assistant Professor, COMB, UMBI.

1989-1992.  Postdoctoral Research Associate, COMB, UMBI.

1988. Ph.D. in Microbiology.  Department of Microbiology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.  Advisor: Professor David. R. Woods.  Thesis: "Gene cloning studies in two nocardioform bacteria".

Student Research

I currently advise two Ph.D. graduate students in the MEES Program and have graduated four Ph.D. students in the past four years.  Fan Zhang is a Fulbright Scholar in the MEES Program and is studying nitrogen and phosphorus cycling by sponge associated bacteria and archaea.  Jan Vicente works on novel symbioses between marine sponges and on the effects of ocean acidification on sponges.  Jan is a recipient of the prestigious Nancy Foster Fellowship. 

Jeanette Davis was a MEES student working on the symbionts associated with the Hawaiian mollusk Elysia rufescens and is now a Knauss Fellow following her graduation in 2015.  MEES student Ryan Powell studied the bacterial aggregation of microalgae, graduated in 2014 and is founder of his own biotechnology company.  MEES student Jindong Zan who graduated in 2013 worked on acyl-homoserine quorum sensing in bacteria isolated from sponges and is now a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Dr. Mohamed Donia at Princeton.  GPILS student Naomi Montalvo studied the remarkable bacterial diversity associated with giant barrel sponges in the genus Xestospongia graduated in 2011 and now works doing scientific writing. 


Vicente, J., N. Silbiger and R. T. Hill.  2014. Impact of ocean acidification on the process of silica biomineralization by the invasive Hawaiian sponge Mycale grandis.  2nd International Symposium on Sponge Microbiology.  Baltimore, Maryland. 

Zhang, F., L. C. Blasiak, J. Karolin, C. G. Geddes and R. T. Hill.  2014.  Phosphorus sequestration by microbial symbionts in marine sponges.  2nd International Symposium on Sponge Microbiology.  Baltimore, Maryland. 

Hill, R. T.  2013.  Marine sponges and their symbionts: Complexity, signals and small molecules.  113th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, Denver, CO. 

R. T. Hill.  2013.  Bacterial symbionts in marine sponges:  signaling and other interactions”.  Host: Russ Kerr.  University of Prince Edward Island. Canada.  

R. T. Hill.  2012.  Bacterial symbionts in marine sponges: signaling, bioactive compounds  and other interactions”.  Host: Carole Bewley, NIDDK, National Institutes of Health.  

R. T. Hill.  2012.  Marine biotechnology:  Opportunities for South Africa”.  Host:  Michael Davies-Coleman.  University of the Western Cape.  South Africa.  

R. T. Hill.  2012.  Bacterial symbionts in marine sponges: Signaling and other interactions.  Host: Mair Churchill.  University of Colorado, Denver.  Anschultz Medical Campus. 


(Since 2014)

 Zan, J., O. Choi, H. Meharena, C. L. Uhlson, M. A. E. Churchill, R. T. Hill and C. Fuqua.  2015.  A solo luxI-type gene directs acylhomoserine lactone synthesis and contributes to motility control in the marine sponge symbiont Ruegeria sp. KLH11.  Microbiology. 161:50-56.

 Zhang, F., J. Vicente and R. T. Hill.  2014. Temporal changes in the diazotropic bacterial communities associated with Caribbean sponges Ircinia strobilina and Mycale laxissima. Front. Microbiol. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00561

 Vicente, J., S. Zea, R. J. Powell, J. R. Pawlik and R. T. Hill.  2014.  New epizooic symbioses between sponges of the genera Plakortis and Xestospongia in cryptic habitats of the Caribbean.  Mar. Biol.  doi: 10.1007/s00227-014-2546-z

 Zhang, F., L. Pita, P. M. Erwin, S. Abaid, S. López-Legentil, R. T. Hill. 2014.  Symbiotic archaea in marine sponges show stability and host specificity in community structure and ammonia oxidation functionality.  FEMS Microbiol. Ecol. doi: 10.1111/1574-6941.12427. 

Wang, H., R. T. Hill, T. Zheng, X. Hu and B. Wang.  2014. Effects of bacterial  communities on biofuel-producing microalgae: Stimulation,  inhibition    and harvesting.  Crit. Rev. Biotechnol.  doi: 10.3109/07388551.2014.961402. 

 Waters, A. L., O. Peraud, N. Kasanah, J. Sims, N. Kothalawala, M. A, Anderson, S. H.  Abbas, K. V. Rao, V. R. Jupally, M. Kelly, A. Dass, R. T. Hill and M. T. Hamann. 2014. An analysis of the sponge Acanthostrongylophora igens’ microbiome yields an actinomycete that produces the natural product manzamine A. Front. Mar. Sci. 1:54. doi:10.3389/fmars.2014.00054

 Wang, H., J. Li, T. Zheng, R. T. Hill and X. Hu.  2014.  Permianibacter aggregans gen. nov., sp. nov., a novel bacterium of the family Pseudomonadaceae capable of aggregating potential biofuel-producing microalgae.  doi: 10.1099/ijs.0.065003-0.

 Davis, J. and R. T. Hill.  2014.  Draft genome sequence of Hawaiian sea slug symbiont Vibrio sp. strain ER1A.  Genome Announc.  2:e00820-14.  doi: 10.1128/genomeA.00820-14.

Powell, R. J. and R. T. Hill.  2014.  Mechanism of algal aggregation by Bacillus sp. strain RP1137. Appl. Environ. Microbiol.   doi: 10.1128/AEM.00887-14.

 Montalvo, N. F., J. Vicente, R. Pittiglio, J. Davis, J. Ravel and R. T. Hill.  2014.  Integration of culture-based and molecular analysis of a complex sponge-associated bacterial community.  PLOS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090517.

 Powell R. J., T. R. Bachvaroff and R. T. Hill. 2014. Draft genome sequence of the alga-aggregating bacterium Bacillus sp. strain RP1137. Genome Announc. 2(1):e00973-13.

 Powell R. J., R. White and R. T. Hill.  2014.  Merging metabolism and power: Development of a novel photobioelectric device driven by photosynthesis and respiration. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86518. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086518.

 Wang, D., K. Ning, J. Li, J. Hu, D. Han, H. Wang, X. Zeng, X. Jing, Q. Zhou, X. Su, X. Chang, A. Wang, W. Wang, J. Jia, L. Wei, Y. Xin, Y. Qiao, R. Huang, J. Chen, B. Han, K. Yoon, R. T. Hill, Y. Zohar, F. Chen, Q. Hu, and J. Xu.  2014.  Nannochloropsis genomes reveal evolution of microalgal oleaginous traits.  PLOS Genetics.10(1):e1004094. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004094.

 Zan, J., Y. Liu, C. Fuqua and R. T. Hill.  2014.  Acyl-homoserine lactone quorum sensing in the Roseobacter clade.  Int. J. Mol. Sci. 15:654-669; doi:10.3390/ijms15010654.

Blasiak L. C., A. W. Schmidt, H. Andriamiarinoro, T. Mulaw, R. Rasolomampianina, W. Applequist, C. Birkinshaw, F. Rejo-Fienena, P. P. Lowry II, T. M Schmidt, R. T. Hill.  2014.  Bacterial communities in Malagasy soils with differing levels of disturbance affecting botanical diversity. PLoS ONE 9(1): e85097. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0085097

 Blasiak, L. C., S. H. Zinder, D. H. Buckley and R. T. Hill.  2014. Bacterial diversity associated with the tunic of the model chordate Ciona intestinalis.  ISME J.  8:309-390.


Fall 2013/2015. Responsible Conduct of Research MEES608. Marine, Estuarine and Environmental Science. Course Instructors: T. Miller and R. T. Hill. This seminar course uses case studies to educate students on research ethics.

Spring 2015. Marine Microbial Ecology MEES608L. Marine, Estuarine and Environmental Science. Course Instructors: R. T. Hill and F. Chen. The seminar course focuses on recent papers in molecular microbial ecology.

Please check the University of Maryland MEES Program course listing for further details.

Current Funded Projects:

An innovative and highly efficient microalgae-based carbon sequestration system to reduce CO2 emission and produce valuable byproducts including biofuels in all climates. PI: Feng Chen, Co-PI: Russell Hill, Yantao Li, Robert Mroz.  Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC), Canada.
$500,000.  Period covered: 4/4/2014-4/30/2016.

 The Ratcliffe Environmental Entrepreneurs Fellowship Program PIs: Russell Hill, Nick Hammond and David Balcom.  Ratcliffe Foundation.
$600,000.  Period covered: 7/1/2014-6/30/2017.

Manure and bioflocculation in algal technology.  Russell T. Hill (PI) and Ryan Powell (co-PI).  Maryland Industrial Partnerships.  $101,439
Period covered: 7/1/2013-2/28/2015.

Turning chicken manure into fertilizer and clean energy.  Feng Chen (PI) and Russell T. Hill (co-PI).  Maryland Industrial Partnerships.  $249,999. Period covered: 8/1/2014-7/31/2016.

Harvest of algal blooms for crude oil production: determining the link between species composition and crude oil quality. Russell T. Hill (PI).  Maryland Industrial Partnerships.  $99,999. Period covered:  2/1/2015-1/31/2016.

 Bead recycling to decrease the cost of harvesting algae for biofuels and high value products.  Russell T. Hill (PI) and Ryan Powell (co-PI). TEDCO.  $40,000. Period covered: 6/30/2014-3/31/2015.

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