We're scientists exploring the origin of photosynthesis in life on Earth and evolving it to help tackle climate change, global hunger and disease. Ask us anything!
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Hi Reddit! Tanai, Thomas, Anthony and Andrea here and we’re researchers at Imperial College London exploring photosynthesis! You’ll likely remember from school that photosynthesis is the process in plants and other organisms that harnesses sunlight to turn CO2 and water into energy and oxygen.
More than 99% of life on Earth is dependent one way or another on oxygenic photosynthesis. It's been a central engine of life and has influenced Earth’s ecosystem since the dawn of life itself. However, when exactly it first appears in that story has proved controversial.
Some of our work, aims to understand photosynthesis at an atomic level and is helping us to travel back in time to piece together this story of early life on Earth and how nature’s own solar panels first came into being. It is work that is overturning what we thought we knew. It was previously thought that life first emerged in the dark and photosynthesis using sunlight only came along much later. But our studies suggest photosynthesis could be as old as life itself.
At the same time as looking to the distant past, we are bringing photosynthesis into the future – hoping to evolve its machinery in the lab and go beyond what biology can do. The aim is to power new chemistry to meet global challenges such as climate change, global hunger and disease.
We look forward to discussing photosynthesis from its origins in the fossil record to its future applications. We are keen to answer your questions on how photosynthesis works, how it evolved and how it could play an important role in:
- Protecting the environment through carbon sequestration and pollution clean-up
- Addressing food security concerns by improving crop yields
- Replacing fossil-fuel-based industrial chemical reactions that produce a lot of today’s commercial products for greener ones
- Thomas Oliver is a final year PhD student working on the molecular evolution and function of photosystems.
- Anthony Cheuk is a final year PhD student working on structure and function of some of the key enzymes of photosynthesis, ATP synthase.
- Andrea Fantuzzi is a Research Fellow working on the structure and function of photosynthesis, but also expert on solar fuels technologies, policy regarding bioenergy, and other applied aspects of photosynthesis.
- Tanai Cardona is a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and the leader of the Molecular Evolution Lab and has been interested in photosynthesis since he was a teenager! His specialty is the evolution of Photosystem II - the water oxidizing enzyme of oxygenic photosynthesis.
Furth info / interesting links:
- New findings suggest photosynthesis could be as old as life itself... https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/217553/photosynthesis-could-life-itself/
- An Imperial news story on research investigating the origin of photosynthesis on Earth - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/189232/oxygen-could-have-been-available-life/
- Tanai Cordona’s work referenced in a report on UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships awardees - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/197036/future-research-innovation-leaders-backed-through/
- The discovery of a new type of photosynthesis that uses far red light. This research was voted the second most important discovery of 2018 by the Chinese Academy of Science - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/186732/new-type-photosynthesis-discovered/
- The discovery of a new light protection mechanism in plants - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/175116/light-protection-mechanism-discovered-plants/
- A reality check on Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/grantham/publications/energy-and-low-carbon-futures/beccs-deployment-a-reality-check.php
- Assessing the feasibility of carbon dioxide mitigation options in terms of energy use - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-0646-1
- Development of a bio-solar panel by printing cyanobacteria on paper - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/182936/wallpaper-bio-solar-panel-developed-researchers/