Allan was born in 1952 in the small fishing port community of Prince Rupert in northwest British Columbia. During a midnight canoe ride near Bamfield Marine Station, attending a summer course in marine biology, he became so inspired by the vivid by Noctiluca and Alexandrium that he instantly decided to devote his life to the study of marine dinoflagellates. After completion of a Bachelor in Marine Biology at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, he sought out Prof. F.J.R. (Max) Taylor as mentor for graduate studies at the University of British Columbia, with co-supervision by Prof P.J. Harrison. He received his joint PhD with honours in both Departments of Botany and Oceanography in 1986. His dissertation topic on Variability and species discrimination within the Protogonyaulax tamarensis/catenella species complex: red-tide dinoflagellates, remains a controversial and active area of research in the HAB field. He therefore never really completed his studies of 30 years ago!



2016 Yasumoto Lifetime Achievement Award by 17th Int Conf Harmful Algae; 2016 Gold Medal and 2015 Bronze Award for Teaching Excellence, MPI Marine Microbiology Graduate Programme, Max Planck Society; 1998 Institute for Marine Biosciences, NRC, Group Leader on Gold Team Award for discovery of the causative organism of spirolide toxicity; 1988 Gold Medal Merit Award from Department of Fisheries and Oceans for exceptional research contribution during the ASP crisis in eastern Canada; 1986 Thomas A. Byrne Prize - awarded for best doctoral thesis defence, Department of Oceanography, University of British Columbia; 1980-85 Graduate Research Assistant Award, Departments of Oceanography/ Botany, University of British Columbia


Professional Career

After completion of his doctoral studies, Allan accepted an NSERC post-doctoral fellowship in Quebec and within a year became programme director for toxic algal research in the St Lawrence region at the new Maurice Lamontagne Institute, Mont Joli, Quebec. This coincided with the 1987-1988 domoic acid (ASP) crisis in Atlantic Canada, and he was intimately involved with colleagues from DFO and NRC in the identification of the toxin and causative organism. In 1993, as a result of these collaborative interactions, he was recruited by the Institute for Marine Biosciences, Halifax, Nova Scotia as a Senior Research Officer, to lead a small group on toxic algal biotechnology working with analytical and natural products toxin chemists (Mike Quilliam, Jeff Wright, John Walter) and molecular geneticists. He established a field oceanographic component to his work on toxic blooms related to coastal aquaculture via Adjunct Professorships in the Departments of Biology (1997 – 2001) and Oceanography (1993 – 2004) at Dalhousie University, Halifax. In 2003, he accepted a new challenge to create research programme on chemical ecology of marine eukaryotic microalgae at the Alfred Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany with a Full Professorship at Bremen University. He established a new Ecological Chemistry Department at AWI, originally comprising about 50 co-workers, to study the fate, structure and species interactions of low molecular weight organic molecular of natural origin. At AWI he has also served as Head of Division Biosciences (2004-2008) and as leader of the Coastal Research Programme MARCOPOLI (2004 – 2008). In addition to his role as Head of Department, he is currently a Deputy Workpackage Leader within the Coastal Theme of the PACES programme, the major funding for AWI research.


Key contributions

Allan has always been in the forefront of HAB research, since his doctoral studies on variation in toxin composition and primary gene products (enzymes) to discriminate among Alexandrium strains. These discoveries of extensive intra-species heterogeneity were well before the advent of nucleic acid-based molecular tools. He subsequently co-authored a classic paper with Christophe Destombe on sexuality and mating type dynamics, as well as publishing the first Alexandrium rDNA sequences, thereby opening the door to molecular phylogeny and species identification (“fingerprinting”) methods. Allan has the unique honour of leading the research groups for identifying the causative organisms of two novel categories of phycotoxins – first spirolides from Alexandrium ostenfeldii; and then azaspiracids from Azadiniumspecies. Working with the “dream team” he recruited to AWI (Uwe John, Urban Tillmann, Bernd Krock) the origin of azaspiracids were correctly attributed to the new genus Azadinium, and not to Protoperidinium as previously believed. That latter body of work constitutes a scientific tour de force; in a very short time the causative organism was identified, the taxonomic and phylogenetic affinities revealed, the toxin diversity elucidated, and the global biogeography defined. Allan and co-workers pioneered the concept of “lab on a ship”, whereby sophisticated technology such as LC-MS/MS and gene sequencers are installed on board for near real-time analysis of species diversity and toxin composition of natural HAB populations. His current scientific interests are focused on studies of chemical ecology (allelopathy, etc.) among eukaryotic microalgae and on genetic diversity of a variety of toxic HAB species, in collaboration with colleagues in many parts of the world.

Allan Cembella is a leader and highly respected member of the HAB community, with great scientific accomplishments, strong leadership skills, and a willingness to devote his time and intellect to that community and the field. Allan was a founding member of the Scientific Steering Committee of GEOHAB and chaired one of the Core Research Projects – on HABs in Fjords and Coastal Embayments. He served as the first Vice-President of ISSHA, and has been a longstanding member of the ICES/IOC Working Group on Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics (WGHABD). He served as the Canadian and now German representative to the Intergovernmental Panel for HABs (IPHAB), and is currently Vice-President. He is heavily involved and committed to HAB projects and education, particularly in Latin America, with students and projects in Chile, Argentina and Mexico.


Academic and Mentoring Activities

Allan has maintained an extensive number of Adjunct Professorships, in addition to academic appointments at Dalhousie University, to fulfil requirements of research projects linked to graduate student supervision, including at the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Appliquées en Alimentation (CRESALA) and Centre de Recherche en Immunologie, Institut Armand‑Frappier (IAF) (Université de Québec), Laval, Québec (1989-1995), Department of Oceanography, University of Maine, Darling Marine Center, Walpole, ME, USA (1993 -1995), Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA (1996-1999), and as Honorary Professor, Marine Sciences Institute, University of the Philippines (Diliman), Manila (2005 – 2006). He has been an enthusiastic and effective thesis supervisor and/or mentor to 18 doctoral candidates, including JP Parkhill, Geoff MacIntyre, Janice Lawrence, Hai-yan Ma, Sylke Wohlrab, Michael Freitag, Karina Stucken, etc., and an even greater number of Master students, post-doctoral fellows and young scientists worldwide.


10 Key publications

Anderson , D. M. , Cembella, A. D. , Hallegraeff, G. M. (2012) Progress in Understanding Harmful Algal Blooms: Paradigm Shifts and New Technologies for Research,Monitoring, and Management Ann. Rev. Mar. Sci. 4 , 143-176

Anderson, D.M., A.D. Cembella and G.M. Hallegraeff (eds.) (1998) Physiological Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms, NATO-Advanced Study Institute Series, V. 41, Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg

Cembella, A.D. (2003) Chemical ecology of eukaryotic microalgae in marine ecosystems. Phycologia 42, 420-447

Cembella, A.D., Antia, N.J., Harrison, P.J. (1984) The utilization of inorganic and organic phosphorus compounds as nutrients by eukaryotic microalgae: A multidisciplinary perspective CRC Critical reviews in Microbiology 11, 13-81

Cembella, A, Lewis, N. I, Quilliam, M. A. (2000) The marine dinoflagellate Alexandrium ostenfeldii (Dinophyceae) as the causative organism of spirolide shellfish toxinsPhycologia, 39 , 67-74

Cembella, A. , Sullivan, J. J. , Boyer, G. L. , Taylor, F. J. R. , Andersen, R. J. (1987) Variation in paralytic alytic shellfish toxin composition within the Protogonyaulax tamarensis/catenella species complexBiochem. ical System. Ecol. 15, 171-186

Cembella, A., Taylor, F.J.R. (1986) Electrophoretic variability within the Protogonyaulax tamarensis/catenella species complex: Pyridine-linked dehydrogenasesBiochem. System. Ecol. 14, 311-323

Destombe, C., Cembella, A. (1990) Mating-type determination, gametic recognition and reproductive success in Alexandrium excavatum (Gonyaulacales, Dinophyta), a toxic red-tide dinoflagellate , Phycologia 29, 316-325

Hallegraeff, G. M. , Anderson, D. M., Cembella, A. (eds) (2003) Manual on Harmful Marine Microalgae, Monographs on Oceanographic Methodology , UNESCO, Paris.

Tillmann, U. , Elbrächter, M. , Krock, B. , John, U. , Cembella, A. (2009). Azadinium spinosum gen. et sp. nov.(Dinophyceae) identified as a primary producer of azaspiracid toxins, Eur.J. Phycol. 44, 63-79