Dr. Helena Villela

Research Scientists

Research Scientist

Research Interests

​Dr. Villela's research interest is, mainly, the investigation of marine microbes that can be applied to the protection and recovery of the environment, mitigating the consequences of the anthropogenic activities. Her background include research on genetic engineering of microalgae strains to produce biofuel, the development of bioremediation approaches to mitigate oil spills impacts on reef sites, and the investigation of the effects of pollutants (such as oil and chemical dispersants) on corals and their associated microbiomes. 
In the Red Sea, Dr. Villela will be studying, together with her PI Dr. Raquel Peixoto, coral-associated microbes with the potential to be applied as coral probiotics, the so-called Beneficial Microorganisms for Corals (BMCs). Dr. Villela will also be exploring chemosynthetic coral-associated bacteria in the Red Sea deep waters, characterizing how the bacteria-coral organic carbon transference occurs in the deep and cold environments.

Selected Publications

  • Prospecting Microbial Strains for Bioremediation and Probiotics Development for Metaorganism Research and Preservation
    Villela, Helena DM, Caren LS Vilela, Juliana M. Assis, Natascha Varona, Camille Burke, David A. Coil, Jonathan A. Eisen, and Raquel S. Peixoto.
    JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments) 152 (2019): e60238.
  • Microbial bioremediation of oil contaminated seawater: A survey of patent deposits and the characterization of the top genera applied. 
    Villela, H.D., Peixoto, R.S., Soriano, A.U. and Carmo, F.L. 
    Science of the Total Environment, 666: 743-758 (2019)
  • Microbiome Flexibility Provides New Perspectives in Coral Research. 
    Villela, Helena
    Bioessays: News and Reviews in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (2020): e2000088-e2000088.
  • Coral Probiotics: Premise, promise, prospects
    Peixoto, Raquel S., Michael Sweet, Helena DM Villela, Pedro Cardoso, Torsten Thomas, Christian R. Voolstra, Lone Høj, and David G. Bourne. 
    Rev. Anim. Biosci. 9:X-X (2021)
  • Adaptable mesocosm facility to study oil spill impacts on corals
    Silva, Denise P., Gustavo Duarte, Helena DM Villela, Henrique F. Santos, Phillipe M. Rosado, João Gabriel Rosado, Alexandre S. Rosado, Edir M. Ferreira, Adriana U. Soriano, and Raquel S. Peixoto.
    Ecology and Evolution 9, no. 9 (2019): 5172-5185.
  • Heat waves are a major threat to turbid coral reefs in Brazil. 
    Duarte, Gustavo AS, Helena DM Villela, Matheus Deocleciano, Denise Silva, Adam Barno, Pedro M. Cardoso, Caren LS Vilela et al. 
    Frontiers in Marine Science 7 (2020): 179.
  • Biophysical and physiological processes causing oxygen loss from coral reefs
    Silveira, Cynthia B., Antoni Luque, Ty NF Roach, Helena Villela, Adam Barno, Kevin Green, Brandon Reyes et al. 
    Elife 8 (2019): e49114.
  • Ecological and biotechnological importance of secondary metabolites produced by coral‐associated bacteria. 
    Modolon, Fluvio, Adam R. Barno, Helena DM Villela, and Raquel S. Peixoto.
    Journal of Applied Microbiology 129, no. 6 (2020): 1441-1457.
  • Assessing skeleton and microbiome responses of a calcareous sponge under thermal and pH stresses.
    Ribeiro, Bárbara, André Padua, Adam Barno, Helena Villela, Gustavo Duarte, André Rossi, Flávio da Costa Fernandes, Raquel Peixoto, and Michelle Klautau.
    ICES Journal of Marine Science (2020).
  • Delivering Beneficial Microorganisms for Corals: Rotifers as Carriers of Probiotic Bacteria. 
    Assis, J.M., Abreu, F., Villela, H., Barno, A., Valle, R.F., Vieira, R., Taveira, I., Duarte, G., Bourne, D.G., Høj, L. and Peixoto, R.S., 2020.
    Frontiers in Microbiology, 11, p.3243


  • ​Ph.D., Biotechnology and Bioprocesses, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Institute for Microbiology, with partial completion of a graduate program at San Diego State University, USA, 2019
  • M.Sc., Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, University of São Paulo, Institute for Chemistry, Brazil, 2014
  • B.Sc., Biology, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Institute for Biology, Brazil, 2011

Professional Profile

  • 2021-Present: Research Scientist, RSRC, KAUST, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia​
  • 2019-2021: Postdoctoral fellow, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Institute for Microbiology, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Scientific and Professional Membership

  • ​Research Associate at AquaRio (Rio de Janeiro Marine Aquarium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
  • Australia Global Alumni


  • ​Academia-Industry Training Programme (AIT) 
  • Australia – Brazil PhD Exchange Award

KAUST Affiliations

  • Red Sea Research Center (RSRC)
  • Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division (BESE)

Research Interests Keywords

Microbial Ecology Coral Microbiology Marine Probiotics Marine Symbiosis Chemosynthesis Applied Microbiology