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Chris Howe

Biochemistry of photosynthesis; molecular evolution of photosynthetic microorganisms and Plasmodium

The overall theme of our research is the biochemistry and molecular evolution of photosynthetic organisms. Studies on the photosynthetic machinery led us to discover a novel cytochrome in plants and green algae, now called cytochrome c6A, whose function we are still elucidating. As part of the Algal Biotechnology Consortium, based in Cambridge, we are studying ways of manipulating the photosynthetic machinery of algae for renewable energy production. We are also interested in the chloroplast genome and its evolution. For example, dinoflagellate algae have a very unusual, fragmented and fast-evolving chloroplast genome. This has the potential to be a valuable genetic marker in studies on coral bleaching, where corals lose their dinoflagellate symbionts. Surprisingly, the closest evolutionary relatives of the dinoflagellates include Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria. Although it is not photosynthetic, it retains a remnant chloroplast that is essential for the parasite’s survival, and we are studying how this remnant chloroplast might be targeted for malaria treatment. We also have a broader interest in molecular evolution, as well as the application of principles of evolutionary analysis to memes, including sets of manuscripts of texts such as The Canterbury Tales.

Lab members: Laura Baers, Adrian Barbrook, Derek Bendall, Paolo Bombelli, Mim Bower, Richard Dorrell, Wendy Gibson, Harriet Hunt, Davy Kurniawan, David Lea-Smith, Diane Lister, Joanna McKenzie, Robert Nimmo, Stephen Rowden, Ravendran Vasudevan, Heather Windram, Anthony Riseley, Ruth Laing, Toby Call

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Algal Biotechnology Consortium

Key publications:

1. Howe, C.J. and Windram, H.F. (2011) Phylomemetics - evolutionary analysis beyond the gene.  PLoS Biology 9, e1001069

2. Scott, S.A., Davey, M.P., Dennis, J.S., Horst, I., Howe, C.J., Lea-Smith D.J. and Smith, A.G. (2010) Biodiesel from algae: challenges and prospects. Curr. Opinion. Biotech. 21, 277-286.

3. Serfontein, J., Nisbet, R.E.R., Howe, C.J. and de Vries, P.J. (2010) Evolution of the TSC1/TSC2-TOR signaling pathway. Science Signaling 3, ra49.

4. Howe, C.J., Nisbet, R.E.R. and Barbrook, A.C. (2008) The remarkable chloroplast genome of dinoflagellates. Journal of Experimental Botany 59, 1035-1045