Dr Zamira Gibb

Dr Zamira Gibb

Post Doctoral Researcher

School of Environmental and Life Sciences

A many trick pony

Dr Zamira Gibb is a postdoctoral researcher in the field of equine fertility enhancement who works closely with industry to improve reproductive outcomes.

Dr Zamira GibbA request by a horse breeder has resulted in Dr Zamira Gibb and a team of researchers at the University of Newcastle working at the cutting edge of applied reproductive technology for livestock and, more recently, aquaculture.

Producing around half of all horses born in Australia and employing hundreds of thousands of people, the Hunter Valley's equine breeding industry is a valuable, sustainable, and culturally significant contributor to the Australian economy.

A combination of external factors such as pollutants, stress and land degradation, plus thousands of years of artificial selection in human sanctioned breeding processes, has seen the fertility of horses decrease over time.

Zamira works with the Thoroughbred racehorse industry - using natural methods only - and the Standardbred racehorse industry - using artificial reproductive technology - to improve fertility and improve reproductive outcomes, with a focus on stallions.

Working closely with several prominent industry groups including Harness Racing Australia, the Hunter Valley Equine Research Centre and equine reproductive specialists in both Australia and New Zealand, Zamira is a talented speaker renowned for her ability to present appropriately pitched information to both industry and scientific audiences alike.

Her understanding of the science down to the molecular level, plus depth of knowledge of both the veterinary and breeding industries, uniquely positions Zamira as a powerful conduit for the expedition of improvements in industry practice, as well as a scout for the identification of areas of industry need.


Zamira wasn't born into horses. As a pre-teen living in suburban Sydney, her love of horses was ignited when her parents sent her to a school holiday riding camp. When her interest failed to wane, they brokered a deal with a nearby riding school to exchange her labour for a weekly riding lesson.

"I spent every weekend there, cleaning stables and brushing horses, which was fine because I was happy just to pick up horse manure, and my parents were happy for me to be out of the house," she laughs.

"When I was 11 going on 12, my parents promised that if I worked at the riding school every weekend for twelve months, they would buy me a pony, thinking I would never follow through."

"But I did it for a year and they bought me a pony!"

"Mum always laments, 'Why didn't I buy you a tennis racket?'"

With her interest in horses continuing to grow, a degree in Animal and Veterinary Bioscience from the University of Sydney was the only choice for tertiary study.  

Horses weren't available for Zamira's Honours project so she stepped out of her chosen species comfort zone and worked with alpacas. During her PhD studies, Zamira set to creating a commercially viable technology for cryopreserving and sex sorting of horse sperm. This project had mixed results, with its success being limited by accessibility and cost issues.


After presenting her PhD work at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Reproductive Biology, Zamira was approached by Laureate Professor John Aitken, the Director of the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Science, who asked her to head up a new team in horse fertility.

Laureate Professor Aitken was the researcher originally approached by the Hunter Valley horse breeder who wondered if the expertise garnered from John's research involving human fertility could translate to horses.

Zamira jumped at the chance to become what she describes as "the person on the ground who deals with the horse farms. It's my job to work out what we need to achieve and what is important for industry."

"One of the beautiful things about working here is that my supervisor is John Aitken, unarguably one of the world's leaders in human sperm research," Zamira confirms.

Although not translating directly due to differences in metabolic processes between horse and human sperm, working alongside a world leader in human fertility is a great advantage for the horse fertility team, as is having access to the relevant research facilities at the University of Newcastle. The availability of the mass spectrometers and flow cytometers for Zamira and her team's work elevates them above many researchers and most practitioners in their field.

Zamira explains: "Most people undertaking horse research are at veterinary schools with limited access to this kind of equipment because they don't have the funding. If they do have access to it, it might be the apex of five years' worth of work, and cost tens of thousands of dollars for them to utilise."

"Molecular biology is not something they taught us in vet school. Having molecular capabilities make us really quite unique."


Students working with Zamira are undertaking several fascinating projects, focused on fertilisation or reproduction processes.

One group of students is working with the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, based at the University of Canberra, on a project developing a method of controlling feral horses. Ideally, a single dose sterilisation injection would render the majority of wild brumby herds infertile.

This strategy addresses damage to native plants, animals and ecosystems without necessitating cruel culling regimes which merely leave the newly corrected environments open to repopulation.

The team is also under-taking longitudinal data collection supporting what appears to be a correlation between inhalation of coal dust and damage to the germ line which may manifest as orthopedic disease in the offspring. 


Recently decimated by disease, the oyster industry in Australia is looking for a new and hardy disease-resistant strain. The usefulness of explorative selective crosses is hampered by the amount of time needed for the new breeds to be tested for resilience. Waiting usually means the corresponding gametes have become non-viable.

A student in the team is looking at the storage of oyster eggs, so original eggs are still viable after testing of the selective crosses. This would create the ability to re-cross, strip and send the eggs of the robust cross to oyster farms around the country, remaining viable for weeks at a time, and allowing for repopulation. 


Looking to the future, the team is working towards several research goals as well as continuing to advise breeders and government departments on the practical applications of their work in the lab.

The promulgation of strategies that naturally enhance fertility, including nutritional supplementation and management controls, will continue through the team's work with the Throroughbred breeding industry. Immunocontraceptive research will one day ensure the natural mating cycles of feral brumbies are permanently interrupted.

In the Standardbred industry, increasing the efficiency of embryo surrogacy processes is one goal. Another project being undertaken by the team is related to transporting sperm for artificial insemination and has the potential to overhaul assisted reproductive technology practice.

With Zamira at the reins, working as a valuable two-way interface between science and industry, plus shepherding a talented herd of researchers, this team have the winning post well in their sights.

Dr Zamira Gibb

A many trick pony

Dr Zamira Gibb is a postdoctoral researcher in the field of equine fertility enhancement who works closely with industry to improve reproductive outcomes.

Read more

Career Summary


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sydney
  • Certificate IV in Horse Industry Applications, TAFE (NSW)
  • Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience (Hon), University of Sydney


  • Animal Science
  • Assisted Reproductive Technologies
  • Cell Metabolism
  • Cryopreservation
  • Equine
  • Reproduction


  • English (Mother)
  • French (Working)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
070206 Animal Reproduction 60
070201 Animal Breeding 10
060104 Cell Metabolism 30

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Post Doctoral Researcher University of Newcastle
School of Environmental and Life Sciences


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Journal article (11 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2015 Varner DD, Gibb Z, Aitken RJ, 'Stallion fertility: A focus on the spermatozoon', Equine Veterinary Journal, 47 16-24 (2015)

Stallion fertility is a vast subject, with a wide array of permutations that can impact reproductive performance in either positive or negative ways. This review is intended to ad... [more]

Stallion fertility is a vast subject, with a wide array of permutations that can impact reproductive performance in either positive or negative ways. This review is intended to address a mere segment of the male fertility issue, but the very essence of the male contribution to fertilisation, that of the spermatozoon. Spermatozoal ultrastructure and form-to-function are detailed and spermatozoal metabolism is discussed, with specific reference to distinctive characteristics of stallion spermatozoa. Lastly, methods for assessment of spermatozoal function are considered, with emphasis on spermatozoal motility, the acrosome reaction and spermatozoon-oocyte interactions. Closing comments address the need for development and standardisation of molecular-based assays for use with spermatozoa of stallions whose subfertility cannot be explained with conventional tests.

DOI 10.1111/evj.12308
Co-authors John Aitken
2015 Varner DD, Gibb Z, Aitken RJ, 'Stallion fertility: A focus on the spermatozoon', Equine Veterinary Journal, 47 16-24 (2015)
DOI 10.1111/evj.12308
Co-authors John Aitken
2015 Swegen A, Curry BJ, Gibb Z, Lambourne SR, Smith ND, Aitken RJ, 'Investigation of the stallion sperm proteome by mass spectrometry', Reproduction, 149 235-244 (2015)

Stallion spermatozoa continue to present scientific and clinical challenges with regard to the biological mechanisms responsible for their survival and function. In particular, de... [more]

Stallion spermatozoa continue to present scientific and clinical challenges with regard to the biological mechanisms responsible for their survival and function. In particular, deeper understanding of sperm energy metabolism, defence against oxidative damage and cell-cell interactions should improve fertility assessment and the application of advanced reproductive technologies in the equine species. In this study, we used highly sensitive LC-MS/MS technology and sequence database analysis to identify and characterise the proteome of Percoll-isolated ejaculated equine spermatozoa, with the aim offurthering our understanding of this cell's complex biological machinery. We were able to identify 9883 peptides comprising 1030 proteins, which were subsequently attributed to 975 gene products. Gene ontology analysis for molecular and cellular processes revealed new information about the metabolism, antioxidant defences and receptors of stallion spermatozoa. Mitochondrial proteins and those involved in catabolic processes constituted dominant categories. Several enzymes specific to ß-oxidation of fatty acids were identified, and further experiments were carried out to ascertain their functional significance. Inhibition of carnitine palmitoyl transferase 1, a rate-limiting enzyme of ß-oxidation, reduced motility parameters, indicating that b-oxidation contributes to maintenance of motility in stallion spermatozoa.

DOI 10.1530/REP-14-0500
Co-authors John Aitken, Ben Curry
2015 Aitken JB, Naumovski N, Curry B, Grupen CG, Gibb Z, Aitken RJ, 'Characterization of an L-amino acid oxidase in equine spermatozoa.', Biol Reprod, 92 125 (2015)
DOI 10.1095/biolreprod.114.126052
Co-authors John Aitken
2014 Gibb Z, Lambourne SR, Aitken RJ, 'The paradoxical relationship between stallion fertility and oxidative stress.', Biology of Reproduction, 91 1-10 (2014) [C1]
DOI 10.1095/biolreprod.114.118539
Citations Scopus - 5Web of Science - 5
Co-authors John Aitken
2014 Aitken RJ, Lambourne S, Gibb Z, 'The John Hughes Memorial Lecture: Aspects of Sperm Physiology-Oxidative Stress and the Functionality of Stallion Spermatozoa', JOURNAL OF EQUINE VETERINARY SCIENCE, 34 17-27 (2014) [C1]
DOI 10.1016/j.jevs.2013.10.120
Citations Scopus - 2Web of Science - 1
Co-authors John Aitken
2014 Bromfield EG, Aitken RJ, Gibb Z, Lambourne SR, Nixon B, 'Capacitation in the presence of methyl-beta-cyclodextrin results in enhanced zona pellucida-binding ability of stallion spermatozoa', REPRODUCTION, 147 153-166 (2014) [C1]
DOI 10.1530/REP-13-0393
Citations Scopus - 4Web of Science - 3
Co-authors Brett Nixon, John Aitken
2013 Gibb Z, Butler TJ, Morris LHA, Maxwell WMC, Grupen CG, 'Quercetin improves the postthaw characteristics of cryopreserved sex-sorted and nonsorted stallion sperm', THERIOGENOLOGY, 79 1001-1009 (2013)
DOI 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2012.06.032
Citations Web of Science - 10
2013 Gibb Z, Morris LHA, Maxwell WMC, Grupen CG, 'Dimethyl formamide improves the postthaw characteristics of sex-sorted and nonsorted stallion sperm', THERIOGENOLOGY, 79 1027-1033 (2013)
DOI 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2013.01.013
Citations Scopus - 4Web of Science - 1
2012 Aitken RJ, Gibb Z, Mitchell LA, Lambourne SR, Connaughton HS, De Iuliis GN, 'Sperm motility is lost in vitro as a consequence of mitochondrial free radical production and the generation of electrophilic aldehydes but can be significantly rescued by the presence of nucleophilic thiols', Biology of Reproduction, 87 1-11 (2012) [C1]
Citations Scopus - 28Web of Science - 18
Co-authors John Aitken, Geoffry DeiuliIs
2012 Aitken RJ, De Iuliis GN, Gibb Z, Baker MA, 'The Simmet lecture: New horizons on an old landscape - oxidative stress, DNA damage and apoptosis in the male germ line', Reproduction in Domestic Animals, 47 7-14 (2012) [C2]
Citations Scopus - 13Web of Science - 11
Co-authors Geoffry DeiuliIs, Mark Baker, John Aitken
Show 8 more journal articles

Conference (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2012 Gibb Z, Lambourne SR, Aitken RJ, 'Do spermatozoa from fertile thoroughbred stallions live fast and die young?', Reproduction in Domestic Animals: Proceedings of the 17th International Congress on Animal Reproduction (ICAR), Vancouver, Canada (2012) [E3]
Co-authors John Aitken

Grants and Funding


Number of grants 4
Total funding $504,000

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.

20151 grants / $60,000

Research Connections Project$60,000

Funding body: Department of Industry

Funding body Department of Industry
Project Team Laureate Professor John Aitken, Doctor Zamira Gibb
Scheme Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2015
GNo G1500086
Type Of Funding Grant - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFG

20141 grants / $10,000

Stallion Research Program$10,000

Funding body: Scone Race Club

Funding body Scone Race Club
Project Team Laureate Professor John Aitken, Doctor Zamira Gibb
Scheme Donation
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2014
GNo G1400536
Type Of Funding Donation - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFD

20131 grants / $14,000

NucleoCounter SP100$14,000

Funding body: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)

Funding body NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)
Project Team Laureate Professor John Aitken, Associate Professor Brett Nixon, Doctor Shaun Roman, Doctor Mark Baker, Doctor Geoffry De Iuliis, Doctor Lisa Mitchell, Doctor Matthew Jobling, Doctor Zamira Gibb, Mr Nenad Naumovski
Scheme Equipment Grant
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2013
GNo G1201175
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - Commonwealth
Category 2OPC

20121 grants / $420,000

Enhancing the efficiency of equine reproduction: relevant to the Thoroughbred and Standardbred breeding industries. $420,000

Funding body: ARC (Australian Research Council)

Funding body ARC (Australian Research Council)
Project Team Laureate Professor John Aitken, Doctor Zamira Gibb
Scheme Linkage Projects
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2012
Funding Finish 2012
GNo G1100533
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Commonwealth
Category 1CS

Research Supervision

Number of supervisions


Total current UON EFTSL


Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2014 PhD Identification of Novel Immunocontraceptive Targets for Fertility Control of Feral Horses
Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle

Dr Zamira Gibb


Post Doctoral Researcher
School of Environmental and Life Sciences
Faculty of Science and Information Technology

Contact Details

Email zamira.gibb@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5637


Room LS445
Building Life Sciences
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308