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Department of Biochemistry

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, Paolo Bombelli, Toby Call, Jeffrey Douglass, Jack Fleet, Wendy Gibson, Jack Hervey, Harriet Hunt, Ruth Laing, David Lea-Smith, Diane Lister, Isabel Nimmo, Ellen Nisbet, Elfadil Osman, Clayton Rabideau, Anthony Riseley,  Stephen Rowden, Barnaby Slater, Laura Wey, Heather Windram.

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Algal Biotechnology Consortium

Key publications:

1. Lea-Smith, D.J., Biller, S.J., Davey, M.P., Cotton, C.A.R., Sepulveda, B.M.P., Turchyn, A.V., Scanlan, D.J., Smith, A.G., Chisholm, S.W. and Howe, C.J. (2015) Contribution of cyanobacterial alkane production to the ocean hydrocarbon cycle. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112:13591-13596.

2. Dorrell, R.G. and Howe, C.J. (2015) Integration of plastids with their hosts: Lessons learned from dinoflagellates. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112:10247-10254.

3. McCormick, A.J., Bombelli, P., Bradley, R.W., Thorne, R., Wenzel, T. and Howe, C.J. (2015) Biophotovoltaics: oxygenic photosynthetic organisms in the world of bioelectrochemical systems. Energy & Environmental Science 8:1092-1109.

4. Dorrell, R.G., Drew, J., Nisbet, R.E.R. and Howe, C.J. (2014) Evolution of chloroplast transcript processing in Plasmodium and its chromerid algal relatives. PLoS Genetics 10:e100408.

5. Lea-Smith, D.J., Ross, N., Zori, M., Bendall, D.S., Dennis, J.S., Scott, S.A., Smith, A.G. and Howe, C.J. (2013) Thylakoid terminal oxidases are essential for the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 to survive rapidly changing light intensities. Plant Physiology 162:484-495.