Russell Hill

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Russell Hill

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

Dr. Russell T. Hill received his B.Sc. and B.Sc. Honors in Biological Sciences at the University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal), Durban, South Africa and his Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. Hill began his work with the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute in Baltimore, Maryland in 1989. He was promoted to Professor in 2009 and assumed his present position in 2012 as Director for the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), a research center of the University System of Maryland.

Dr. Hill is a marine microbiologist who has received numerous academic awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring 2015-2016, and he is one of 50 Maryland leaders to graduate from Leadership Maryland’s 23rd class in 2015. He was elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology, the honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology, in 2015 in recognition of excellence, originality, and leadership in the microbiological sciences.  He was elected as a Fellow of the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology in 2003.  Dr. Hill has served on the board of the International Marine Biotechnology Association since 2007 and was President of IMBA from 2016 to 2019. 

The major focus of Dr. Hill’s research is the investigation of symbiosis between bacteria and marine invertebrates, in particular, sponges. His laboratory was amongst the first to characterize the complex bacterial communities associated with marine sponges by 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis.  His work on more than 20 sponge species from around the world has contributed to understanding of this diversity.  In subsequent functional studies, the Hill Laboratory has elucidated the role of symbiotic bacteria in nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in sponges and the surrounding coral reef environment as well as the signaling processes in these bacteria.  One practical reason for studying sponge symbionts relates to the finding of many important compounds with pharmaceutical potential 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. The Hill Laboratory works on culturing many previously uncultured symbiotic bacteria and studying their role in production of bioactive compounds found in marine invertebrates. Another important research focus is the interaction between bacteria and microalgae that have potential in biofuel production.  The Hill Laboratory is investigating the diversity of bacteria associated with microalgae, the effect of these bacteria on the quality of biofuel produced from the microalgae and the positive and negative effects of the associated bacteria on the growth of microalgae.


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