Cristian Varela

Dr Cristian Varela


School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Technology

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

Dr Cristian Varela has 20 years of research experience in academia and the private sector having worked in Australia, Chile, South Africa, France and Canada in the fields of microbiology, bioprocess engineering, fermentation technologies, systems biology and sensory analysis.

Past research activities include the development and characterisation of yeast strains to produce reduced-alcohol wines, evaluation of the effect of different environmental conditions, such as temperature and nutrient availability, on yeast metabolism and wine flavour and aroma; and the evaluation of gene modification techniques to shift yeast metabolism away from ethanol production. Dr Varela is recently interested in applying this knowledge in new areas within the food industry including coffee production, cacao (chocolate), brewing, distilling and kombucha.

Dr Varela has coordinated and delivered workshops to wine industry members throughout Australia (Hunter Valley, McClaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Riverland, other) disseminating information on novel fermentation approaches aimed at decreasing alcohol concentration in wine.

Dr Varela is member of editorial boards for peer-review journals: Applied and Environmental Microbiology; International Journal of Food Microbiology; and Food Microbiology. Reviewer for more than 20 peer-reviewed journals.

Evaluator for grant-awarding bodies, including: ERANET (ERASYSAPP, Europe-wide initiative for Applied Systems Biology); FWO (Research Foundation Flanders); CONICYT (National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research, Chile).

Recipient of Endeavour Award Fellowship in 2015. Four months of research as a visiting scientist at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research at the University of Toronto.

Media interviews for magazines/journals including Scientific American, Wine Spectator, Wine-Searcher, Microbe magazine, The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker.

My research interests include:

  • Investigating and reporting the microbial populations associated with the fermentation of Australian aboriginal beverages. This included way-a-linah made from sap from the cider gum, a Eucalyptus tree native to the remote Central Highlands of Tasmania, and the yeast microbiota associated with flowers, fruits and palm trees from Erub Island in the Torres Strait.
  • Bioprospecting thousands of individual yeast isolates from grape must, determining their taxonomy, and evaluating their phenotype with the aim of providing novel yeast starter cultures for winemaking.
  • Evaluating the effect of winemaking interventions, including sulfur dioxide addition, aeration and fermentation temperature, on yeast population dynamics during un-inoculated wine fermentations.
  • Characterising Brettanomyces bruxellensis industry isolates and developing molecular tools to genetically modify this species.
  • Development of a Systems Biology approach to study wine yeast fermentation.
  • Evaluation of the ability of wine spoilage microorganisms to increase their tolerance to antimicrobial agents.

Recent funding awarded for a collaborative research project between the University of Adelaide and the Australian Wine Research Institute to characterise the microbial communities associated with coffee fermentation in Australia. This research will be commencing in the coming months

I am available to supervise Honours projects in 2024-225. Contact me to discuss further but possible projects include:

1) Evaluating the genomic and metabolic diversity of Australian native yeasts.

In this project we will sequence the genome of several native yeasts (potentially 100 different yeasts), characterise their nutritional requirements, and evaluate the metabolites produced during yeast growth. We will link genome and metabolome data to characterise the diversity of Australian native yeasts populations. 

2) Can Australian native yeasts be used for breadmaking?

In this project we will evaluate if Australian native yeasts have the required metabolic traits to be used for making bread. Promising strains will also be evaluated for aroma and flavour profile. This project is part of a collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne and may involve spending some time in their lab.


  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2023 - ongoing Lecturer University of Adelaide
    2019 - 2023 Principal Research Scientist Australian Wine Research Institute
    2010 - 2019 Senior Research Scientist Australian Wine Research Institute
    2005 - 2010 Research Microbiologist Australian Wine Research Institute
    2004 - 2005 Postdoctoral Research Fellow Australian Wine Research Institute
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2015 Award Endeavour Award Fellowship Australian Wine Research Institute Australia -
  • Language Competencies

    Language Competency
    Spanish - Latin American Can read, write, speak, understand spoken and peer review
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    1999 - 2004 Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Chile PhD
    1996 - 1998 Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Chile MSc
    1992 - 1995 Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Chile Bachelor
  • Research Interests

2023 - 2024 Understanding how fermentation can improve the distinctiveness of Australian coffee. Dr Cristian Varela, Dr David Jeffery. Funding: UoA/AWRI.

2022 - 2023 Co-innovation project wine production and quality. Dr. Keren Bindon, Dr Cristian Varela. Funding: Wine Australia.

2022 - 2023 Impact project No and Low (NoLo) alcohol wine. Dr. Wes Pearson, Dr Josh Hixson, Dr Cristian Varela. Funding: Wine Australia.

2017 - 2022 Bioprospecting Australia’s microbial genetic diversity. Dr Anthony Borneman, Dr Cristian Varela, Kate Cuijvers, Steven Van Den Heuvel, Laura Hale, Dr Cristobal Onetto. Funding: Wine Australia.

2017 - 2022 Understanding Brettanomyces and its adaptation to control measures. Dr Anthony Borneman, Dr Cristian Varela, Kate Cuijvers, Dr Darek Kutyna, Dr Cristobal Onetto. Funding: Wine Australia.

2019 - 2020 Mapping the microbial communities associated with Hickinbotham Roseworthy Winery. Dr Cristian Varela, Dr Anthony Bornema. Funding: AWRI

  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2024 Principal Supervisor No- and low-alcohol (NOLO) Wine Master of Philosophy Master Full Time Miss Andrea Pia Josefa Bustos Jarufe
    2023 Principal Supervisor Selection of lactic acid bacteria for efficient malolactic fermentation in the presence of sulfur dioxide Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Yingxin Liu
    2023 Co-Supervisor Novel microbes from Australian plants: Characterisation and industrial potential Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Tea Knezevic
  • Other Supervision Activities

    Date Role Research Topic Location Program Supervision Type Student Load Student Name
    2018 - 2019 Co-Supervisor Characterising Yeast from Traditional Indigenous Australian Fermentations University of Adelaide Bachelor of Science Honours Full Time Lucien Alperstein
    2016 - 2017 Co-Supervisor Controlling yeast flocculation via the manipulation of yeast promoters University of Adelaide Master of Viticulture and Oenology Master Full Time Qiushuo Feng
  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2023 - ongoing Member Crush: Grape and Wine Science Symposium Organising Committee Wine Innovation Cluster Australia
    2023 - ongoing Member Oeno Macrowine Scientific Committee Bordeaux KEDGE Businnes School France
    2022 - ongoing Member International Specialized Symposium on Yeasts Organising Committee International Commission for Yeasts Australia
    2022 - 2023 Member Crush: Grape and Wine Science Symposium Organising Committee Wine Innovation Cluster Australia
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2019 - ongoing Member The Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology Australia
  • Editorial Boards

    Date Role Editorial Board Name Institution Country
    2019 - ongoing Board Member FEMS Yeast Research Federation of European Microbiological Societies United Kingdom
    2017 - ongoing Board Member Food Microbiology Elsevier Netherlands
    2016 - ongoing Board Member International Journal of Food Microbiology Elsevier Netherlands
    2016 - ongoing Board Member Applied and Environmental Microbiology American Society for Microbiology United States
  • Position: Lecturer
  • Phone: 83133366
  • Email:
  • Campus: Waite
  • Building: Wine Innovation Central, floor Level Three
  • Room: 3.29
  • Org Unit: School of Agriculture, Food and Wine

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