Current Research and Scholarly Interests
The over-arching aim of our lab is to transform our understanding of plant photosynthesis by developing game-changing tools. In the long run, we aim to contribute to increasing crop yields by engineering photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis provides fixed carbon and energy for nearly all life on Earth. Yet we know very little about many key aspects of this fascinating process. What is the full set of genes required for photosynthesis? Which parts work together? What do all the uncharacterized parts do?
Photosynthetic cells have the capacity to harness light energy with incredible efficiency- but if not managed properly, full sunlight can fry the photosynthetic apparatus. How is photosynthesis regulated in response to a varying environment?
Rubisco, the key carbon-fixing enzyme in photosynthesis, is remarkably slow (3 carbon-fixation reactions per second per enzyme). This slowness limits the growth of many crops- yet some organisms have found solutions. How can we overcome these limitations to accelerate photosynthetic growth?
In our first three years, we have focused on developing tools to enable high-throughput genotyping and phenotyping of mutants in the single-celled green alga Chlamydomonas. In our view, there is a burning need for a powerful single-celled model organism for plant functions. The dream is that if we could adapt high-throughput genetics tools from yeast to Chlamydomonas, we could characterize the functions of many conserved genes much more rapidly than we currently can with multi-cellular plant models.
In addition to the high-throughput work, we are also working on in-depth characterization of several specific genes with functions in photosynthesis and plant lipid biology.