PS Seminar Series- Enhancing Rubisco catalysis improves plant growth

Abstract - The rate of photosynthesis and plant growth is often rate limited by the activity of the CO2-fixing enzyme Ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase (Rubisco). Over half a century there has been significant effort to understand the catalytic chemistry and biogenesis properties of this enzyme towards identifying ways to improve its carboxylation properties.

Kinetic diversity screens have identified natural variants of Rubisco with properties beneficial to photosynthesis in C3-plants like rice, wheat and canola, however there are impediments to introducing these changes into crops. In many cases the levels of catalytic improvement are also insufficient to translate to real improvements in growth. In this talk I will discuss new synthetic biology, plastome transformation and directed evolution methods that have proved a more feasible pathway towards generating the step change in Rubisco performance needed to visibly improve plant productivity.

Biography - Dr Whitney undertook his BSc, honours and PhD at James Cook University of North Queensland where he discovered unique molecular and biochemical features of the photosynthetic CO2-fixing enzyme, Rubisco, from the symbiotic marine microalgae found in corals and clams. In 1996 he moved to the ANU to begin his postdoctoral studies and expanded his interest in studying Rubisco biology using plastome transformation biotechnology. His pivotal work on modifying plant photosynthesis via Rubisco engineering led to him being awarded the Goldacre Award in 2002 from the Australian Society of Plant Scientists then the Young Scientist Award in 2004 at the International Photosynthesis Congress. In 2004 he was awarded an ARC Research Fellowship, in 2009 an ARC Future Fellowship and in 2020 a Commendation for Excellence in Education. He was a CI in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis that has just wound up after 7 years with some of his teams findings during this time to be presented in this talk.