Veni grant for Rudi Berera

How light harvesting is regulated in photosynthesis

07/23/2010 | 3:30 PM

Almost all life on Earth relies on photosynthesis, the conversion of the radiant energy from the Sun into chemical energy. The process works optimally at low levels of sunlight, when plants are in the shade or under cloud cover. However, when the sun is very bright or when it is cold or very dry, the light energy absorbed by the antenna (the energy collecting component of the photosynthetic apparatus) can greatly exceed what can be used for photosynthesis. Excess light leads to the accumulation of notoriously harmful species which would eventually lead to the death of the organism.
In order to cope with the deleterious effects of excess light illumination, plants and more generally photosynthetic organisms have developed remarkable photoprotective mechanisms. In particular excess energy can be dissipated within the antenna system in a process known as non-photochemical quenching.The process has been investigated for years, but although important strides have been made, the understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms still remains very controversial. This project aims at unravelling the molecular events that initiate non-photochemical quenching and to establish its physical basis. I will study systems from a variety of organisms, from plants to cyanobacteria and diatoms, by making use of a combined in vitro and in vivo approach. The use of a combination of well established and novel state-of-the art techniques will allow me to delve into the intricacies of the molecular mechanisms underlying the process of energy dissipation in photosynthesis.

Specifically, this project aims to answer the following question:

-is the initial event of energy dissipation a conformational change within the antenna system?
-what is (are) the biophysical mechanism(s) responsible for energy dissipation?
-did different photosynthetic organisms develop different molecular strategies for short-term adaptation to the light environment, or do they all proceed through analogous mechanisms?

Veni grants are awarded to researchers who have recently taken their PhD and allow them to continue to develop their ideas; a maximum of 250,000 euro is awarded, for 3 years.