There is substantial natural diversity in photosynthetic efficiency across the tree of life. In this talk I will discuss some of the approaches we have used to exploit this diversity to fill gaps in our understanding of photosynthetic pathways and improve the molecular machinery of photosynthesis. I will also discuss how studying the evolution of microbial genomes lead to the surprising discovery that photosynthetic efficiency modulates the tempo of the plant molecular clock. This finding provides a mechanistic explanation for observed changes in plant speciation rates that occur concomitant with improvements in photosynthetic efficiency and changes in the environment.
Steve is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford. He is also Associate Director of the Oxford Centre for Plant Science Innovation and Editor in Chief of the Company of Biologists open access journal Biology Open. Steve began his research career as a molecular biologist and protein biochemist, after his PhD his post-doc and early independent career were predominantly computational and now Steve’s research group combines both wet-lab and computational approaches. The primary focus of the research group is exploit natural variation to improve photosynthesis. They do this using data driven approaches that combine comparative genomics, evolutionary biology, systems and synthetic biology. The research group also develops bioinformatic tools to interrogate biological data at multiple scales. These include methods for genome and transcriptome assembly and analysis, phylogenetic inference, gene family inference, regulatory nucleotide element discovery and RNA splicing.