Professor James McDonald BSc, PhD, PGCertHE, FHEA

Professor James McDonald

School of Biosciences
Professor of Microbial Ecology

Contact details

N107, School of Biosciences

Professor McDonald and his research team apply a combination of cultivation-based and molecular approaches to characterise and engineer both host-associated and environmental microbiomes, to understand their role in host health status, biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem function. Current research focusses on microbiome engineering approaches to address key global challenges such as waste management and sustainable fuel production (using microbiomes to produce biofuels and biogas), and in combating tree disease (engineering microbial communities for disease suppression and health promotion). Prof. McDonald is also interested in integrating knowledge on microbiome engineering and microbiome science across diverse systems (e.g. plants, humans, industrial systems) to identify key scientific principles that underpin microbiome assembly and function.


  • PostGraduate Certificate in Higher Education (2013), Bangor University.
  • Ph.D. in Environmental Microbiology (2008), University of Liverpool. Thesis; Molecular ecology of anaerobic cellulose-degrading microorganisms in landfill sites.
  • B.Sc. (Hons), University of Manchester (2004). Microbiology with Industrial Experience. Industrial Experience with the Forensic Science Service.


Professor McDonald joined the School of Biosciences in 2022 to work with colleagues across the Institute of Microbiology and Infection, the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFor) and the College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

He completed a BSc in Microbiology with Industrial Experience at The University of Manchester (2004), followed by a PhD in Environmental Microbiology at the University of Liverpool (2008) under the supervision of Prof. Alan McCarthy and Dr. Heather Allison. This was followed by three short research contracts focused on bacteriophage ecology, the canine oral microbiota, and developing methods for SNP profiling in canine genomes.  In 2010 he was appointed as Research Lecturer at Bangor University, North Wales, where he established research programmes on the microbiology of anaerobic waste degradation, the role of polymicrobial communities in tree disease, and collaborations with Dr. Shelagh Malham, Prof. Davey Jones, and others, on bacterial and viral pathogen ecology in the environment. He was promoted to permanent Lecturer in 2013, Senior Lecturer in 2015 and full Professor in 2019. During this time, he held various roles including module and degree programme coordinator, Director of Postgraduate Research, and sat on School and College Management Boards.

Postgraduate supervision

Prof. McDonald currently supervises 6 PhD researchers and 2 Master’s candidates. He welcomes enquiries about potential Master’s and PhD projects on research themes within his group. Please contact him by email:


Research in Prof. McDonald’s group focusses on the following broad themes:

  • Investigating the role of the oak microbiome in health and disease, characterising microbial disease suppression, engineering the oak microbiome to future-proof tree health and combat tree disease.
  • Characterising the microbial processes of waste biomass conversion to biogas in landfill sites and anaerobic digestion plants to develop engineered microbiomes for enhanced waste conversion to biogas.
  • Integrating knowledge on microbiome engineering and microbiome science across diverse systems (e.g. plants, humans, industrial systems) to identify key scientific principles that underpin microbiome assembly and function.

Other activities

  • Associate editor for Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2019-present)
  • UK ambassador for the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME) (2014-present)
  • Prokaryote Division committee member for the Microbiology Society (2019-2022)
  • Guest special feature editor for Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2020)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2014).


Detection of novel Fibrobacter populations in landfill sites and determination of their relative abundance via quantitative PCR.          
McDonald, J. E., Lockhart, R. J., Cox, M. J., Allison, H. E. & McCarthy, A. J., 1 May 2008, In : Environmental Microbiology. 10, 5, p. 2360-2365

View all publications in research portal