Research Interests

The evolution of photosynthesis

We are interested in how photosynthesis has evolved in plants. The key focus area is the evolution of the protein machinery of photosynthesis. We want to understand how the genes encoding these proteins have evolved so that we can reveal how different plant lineages have altered their photosynthetic machinery for enhanced productivity. We also want to understand how plants have adapted this machinery in response to environmental change (such as changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration) and how these changes feedback on plant evolution. Ultimately, we want to discover the molecular basis for why some plants grow faster than others.

The control of photosynthesis

Most modern-day plants have evolved to use ~3000 genes to convert light, CO2 and water into sugars. These genes encode enzymes and transporters that carry out the biochemical reactions as well as structural building blocks that are needed to make subcellular compartments where the light energy is captured and stored. This large cohort photosynthesis genes is dynamically regulated during plant development and in response to changing environmental conditions. We use a combination of bioinformatics and experimentation to discover how photosynthesis genes are coordinately regulated. We want to use this knowledge to help engineer higher yielding crops for the future.

The evolution of C4 photosynthesis

With over 60 independent origins, C4 photosynthesis is one of the most remarkable examples of convergent evolution. Multiple studies have identified a large repertoire of genes that are differentially expressed between closely related C3 and C4 species, and within C4 species, thousands of genes have been implicated in biochemical and anatomical development. While the catalogue of genes that is associated with C4 biology continues to increase, the mechanisms that regulate C4-specific gene expression remain largely unknown. We are interested in identifying the gene expression regulators that control C4 gene expression and understanding how these regulators have evolved from their C3 ancestors. We hope that by understanding this we can help engineer advantageuos C4 traits into C3 plants.

Building better bioinformatic tools

We are interested in developing improved methods for both multiple sequence alignment, phylogenetic inference, genome annotation, ortholog detection, high throughput sequence analysis and anything else that helps us make better use of our data.