Helena Villela, Ph.D.

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

  • Coral Probiotics: Premise, promise, prospects 
    Peixoto, Raquel S., Michael Sweet, Helena DM Villela, Pedro Cardoso, Torsten Thomas, Chris...
    Rev. Anim. Biosci. 9:X-X, (2021)
  • Microbiome Flexibility Provides New Perspectives in Coral Research 
    Villela, Helena
    Bioessays: News and Reviews in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, (2020)
  • Heat waves are a major threat to turbid coral reefs in Brazil 
    Duarte, Gustavo AS, Helena DM Villela, Matheus Deocleciano, Denise Silva, Adam Barno, Pedr...
    Frontiers in Marine Science 7:179, (2020)
  • 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: 1441-1457, (2020)
  • 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, Fl...
    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., Duar...
    Frontiers in Microbiology, 11, p.3243, (2020)
  • Prospecting Microbial Strains for Bioremediation and Probiotics Development for Metaorganism Research and Preservat... 
    Villela, Helena DM, Caren LS Vilela, Juliana M. Assis, Natascha Varona, Camille Burke, Dav...
    JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments) 152: e60238, (2019)
  • Microbial bioremediation of oil contaminated seawater: A survey of patent deposits and the characterization of the ... 
    Villela, H.D., Peixoto, R.S., Soriano, A.U. and Carmo, F.L. 
    Science of the Total Environment, 666: 743-758, (2019)
  • Adaptable mesocosm facility to study oil spill impacts on corals 
    Silva, Denise P., Gustavo Duarte, Helena DM Villela, Henrique F. Santos, Phillipe M. Rosad...
    Ecology and Evolution 9, no. 9: 5172-5185, (2019)
  • Biophysical and physiological processes causing oxygen loss from coral reefs 
    Silveira, Cynthia B., Antoni Luque, Ty NF Roach, Helena Villela, Adam Barno, Kevin Green, ...
    Elife 8: e49114, (2019)


  • ​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