skip to content


Department of Biochemistry

Chris Howe

Biochemistry of photosynthetic organisms and their non-photosynthetic relatives.


The Howe Group works on several topics to do with photosynthetic organisms and their relatives. Projects include how photosynthetic organisms protect themselves against stressful light levels – absorbing light energy is important for photosynthesis, but is dangerous in excess! We are also interested in the exploitation of photosynthetic organisms for biotechnological purposes. This includes using plants and algae for direct electricity production, and we recently described the world's first moss-powered radio receiver.

We are particularly interested in dinoflagellates, the algae that form symbioses with corals. Breakdown of the symbiosis leads to coral bleaching, and may be due to disturbances in dinoflagellate photosynthesis. Dinoflagellates have a very unusual chloroplast genome, and we have characterised this in detail. This led to our developing methods for genetic modification of dinoflagellates, and new ways of studying the breakdown of the alga-coral symbiosis in bleaching.

One of the closest relatives of dinoflagellates is the malaria parasite Plasmodium. This has a photosynthetic ancestry and, unexpectedly, a remnant (non-photosynthetic) chloroplast with a genome. We are studying the expression of this genome with a view to development of novel antimalarials.

We are also interested in novel applications of evolutionary (phylogenetic) analysis to non-biological data, including literary texts.


Research objectives

  • What are the biochemical pathways that allow photosynthetic organisms do deal with stressful light intensities? Does the recently discovered protein cytochrome c6A have a role in this?

  • How and why do photosynthetic microorganisms generate extracellular electric currents and can we harness these for renewable energy production?

  • How can we use photosynthetic microorganisms for waste remediation and production of novel compounds?

  • Why does the dinoflagellate-coral symbiosis break down in coral bleaching?

  • How is the remnant chloroplast genome expressed in the malaria parasite Plasmodium and its relatives?


Key publications

Lea-Smith DJ, Bombelli P, Vasudevan R, Howe CJ (2016). Photosynthetic, respiratory and extracellular electron transport pathways in cyanobacteria. Biochim. Biophys. Acta, 1857(3):247-255. doi: 10.1016/j.bbabio.2015.10.007

Saar KL, Bombelli P, Lea-Smith DJ, Call T, Aro E-M, Mueller T, Howe CJ, Knowles TPJ (2018). Enhancing power density of biophotovoltaics by decoupling storage and power delivery. Nat. Energy, 3(1):75-81. doi: 10.1038/s41560-017-0073-0

Nimmo IC, Barbrook AC, Lassadi I, Chen JE, Geisler K, Smith AG, Aranda M, Purton S, Waller RF, Nisbet RER, Howe CJ (2019). Genetic transformation of the dinoflagellate chloroplast. eLife, 8:e45292. doi: 10.7554/eLife.45292

Hicks JL, Lassadi I, Carpenter E, Eno M, Vardakis A, Waller RF, Howe CJ, Nisbet RER (2019). An essential pentatricopeptide repeat protein in the apicomplexan remnant chloroplast. Cell Microbiol., 21(12):e13108. doi: 10.1111/cmi.13108

Howe CJ, Windram HF (2011). Phylomemetics - evolutionary analysis beyond the gene. PLoS Biol., 9(5):e1001069. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001069

Contact details

Research Group Leader  Chris Howe


Location  Hopkins Building


The Howe Group is accepting enquiries from prospective postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers.