Academic Staff - Dr Min Chen
|Phone:||+61 2 9036 5006|
|Fax:||+61 2 9351 4119|
|Address:||A08 - Heydon-Laurence Building, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006 Australia|
|Links:||Research Project Opportunities|
- Ph. D. (2003, Sydney), M. Sc.& B. Sc (NENU, China)
- Research Fellow & ARC Postdoctoral Fellow 2004-2007, USyd; Postdoctoral Fellow 2003, ANU
- ARC QEII Fellow, USyd, 2008 - 2012
- ARC Future Fellow, USyd, 2013 -
- Associate Professor, USyd, 2011-
Areas of Interest
My research interests are primarily concerned with elucidating the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of the energy-storing reactions and photo-regulatory processes in photosynthetic organisms, especially the function of red-shifted chlorophylls in oxygenic photosynthetic organisms (cyanobacteria and algae). My research "platform" lies in the broad field of biochemistry of photosynthesis, including biochemical, biophysical and molecular biological studies on isolated pigments and protein-pigment complexes. The experimental techniques that we use include comparison of genomic sequence information, gene expression analysis/meta-transcription analysis, proteomic analysis and spectroscopic analysis. My current projects also include elements of microbial ecology, microbiology/marine microbiology (mainly phototrophic organisms, cyanobacteria and algae), chromatic responses and photo-regulation.
Red-Shifted Chlorophylls, Chlorophylls d and f
The photosynthetic reactions take place within the membrane-bound pigment-protein complexes, light-harvesting systems and reaction centre systems. Chlorophylls are the essential pigments for photosynthesis. There are 5 forms of chlorophylls that have been discovered to date, chlorophyll a, b, c, d and f. Chlorophyll a plays a vital role in plant and algal photosynthesis. Chlorophylls b and c can only serve as accessory photosynthetic pigments in antenna complexes. Chlorophyll f is the most red-shifted chlorophyll in oxygenic photosynthesis (Chen et al 2010, DOI:10.1126/science.1191127).
The red-shifted chlorophylls (Chl d and Chl f) allow the photosynthetic organisms the critical advantage of using longer wavelength photons (690-760 nm) that are not absorbed by organisms containing chlorophyll a, b, c (Chen and Blankenship, 2011, DOI:10.1016/j.tplants.2011.03.011). Chlorophyll d is the only chlorophyll known to date to replace all of the functions of chlorophyll a in oxygenic photosynthesis. The newly found chlorophyll f (absorption maximum at 706 nm in vitro), suggests that oxygenic photosynthesis can be extended even further into the infrared region, which may open up associated bioenergy applications. The function of Chl f in photosynthetic reactions is uncertain and the ecological distribution of chlorophyll f remains unknown.
The studies on photophysiological and biochemical properties of red-shifted chlorophylls will advance our understanding of its ecological and evolutionary significance. Discovery of those red-shifted chlorophyll synthases can be applied for increasing photosynthetic ability to absorb and utilize additional regions of the solar spectrum. This could lead to significant improvements in agricultural efficiency or bioenergy storage. It may also be useful for remote sensing and detection of plants that contain this pigment.
Photoregulation and pigment composition
In addition to chlorophylls, there are two types of pigments found in phototrophs, the polyene pigments known as carotenoids and open chain tetrapyrroles known as bilins. Carotenoids function as light-harvesting photopigments in photosynthesis, also have an essential function in light protection against damage from excess excitation energy or reactive oxygen species. Two considering approaches for improving the efficiency of photosynthesis: the expension of solar spectrum using red-shifted chlorophylls (above) and reducing the amount of excess light (Blankenship and Chen 2013, DOI: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2013.03.031). The Bilins are important pigments for light-harvesting function in phycobiliproteins and phycobilisomes and photoregulation/chromatic changes in phytochromes and related proteins. The latter functions are also performed in non-photosynthetic organisms or tissues. We are interested to understand the biochemical mechanisms, such as the types and function of phytochromes and their relationship with photosynthetic reactions, changes in carotenoids and their physiological functions, as well as the balance between the light-harvesting complexes and reaction centres for maximising photosynthetic efficiency.
Evolutionary transition from anaerobic to aerobic metabolism
How life on Earth survived the revolutionary changes when cyanobacteria first released oxygen into the atmosphere is not well understood. The process by which the transition from the anoxic (oxygen-free) to the oxic (oxygen-rich) worlds occurred is still largely a mystery. The comparative genomic study will be performed at the molecular level with ecological interpretation. the co-evolution of oxygen use and oxygen detoxification will allow us to understand life cycles, adaptation and evolution in the biosphere. The ocean provides multi-layers of microenvironments, with changing gradients of chemicals, light and available oxygen. These environments shape the biosphere and its essential cycles.
Some cyanobacteria have the ability to perform two seemingly incompatible metabolisms stimutaneously, such as oxygen production (oxygenic photosynthesis) and a strictly anaerobic process (nitrogen fixation). The gradient of available oxygen concentration may play an important regulatory role for such metabolic reaction shifts.
- Li Y., Cai Z.-L., and Chen M. (2013) Spectroscopic properties of chlorophyll f, J. Phys. Chem. B (in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jp402413d).
- Willows R., Li Y., Scheer H., and Chen M. (2013) Structure of chlorophyll f, Organic Letters 15:1588–1590.
- Loughlin P., Lin Y., and Chen M.. (2013) Chlorophyll d and [[Acaryochloris marina: current status, Photosynth. Res. (in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11120-013-9829-y).
- Blankenship R.E., and Chen M. (2013) Spectral Expansion and Antenna Reduction Can Enhance Photosynthesis for Energy Production, Current Opinion Chem. Biol. (in press, 10.1016/j.cbpa.2013.03.031).
- Chen M., and Scheer H. (2013) Extending the limit of natural photosynthesis and implications of technical light harvesting, Journal of Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines 17:1–15.
- Chen M., Li Y., Birch D., and Willows RD (2012) A cyanobacterium that contains chlorophyll f - a red-absorbing photopigment, FEBS Lett. 586:3249–3254.
- Li Y., Scales N., Willows R.D., Blankenship R.E., and Chen M. (2012) Extinction coefficient for re-shifted chlorophylls: chlorophyll d and chlorophyll f, Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1817:1292–1298.
- Kiss É., Kós P.B., Chen M., and Vass I (2012) A unique regulation of the expression of the D1, D2 and cyatochrome b559 subunits of the photosystem II complex in the chlorophyll d-containing cyanobacterium, Acaryochloris marina, Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1817:5083–5094.
- Larkum A.W.D., Chen M., Li Y., Schliep M., Trampe E., West J., Salih A., and Kühl M (2012) Novel epiphytic chlorophyll d-containing cyanobacteria (Acaryochloris marina) on mangrove associated red algae, Journal of Phycol. 48:1320–1328.
- Pan H., Šlapeta J., Carter D., and Chen M. (2012) Phylogenetic analysis of the light-harvesting system in Chromera velia, Photosynth. Res. 111:19–28.
- Chen M., and Blankenship R.B. (2011) Expanding the solar spectrum used by photosynthesis, Trends in Plant Science 16:427–431 (DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2011.03.011).
- Chen M., Schliep M., Willows R.D., Cai Z.-L., Neilan B.A., and Scheer H. (2010) A red-shifted chlorophyll, Science 329: 1318–19 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1191127).
- Schliep M., Crossett B., Willows R.D., and Chen M. (2010) 18O-labelling of chlorophyll d in acaryochloris marina reveal chlorophyll a and molecular oxygen are precursors, J. Bio. Chem. 285: 28450–58.
- Yang D., Yang Q., and Chen M. (2010) Characterization of Chl d-binding light-harvesting protein of Acaryochloris in Synechocystis sp. PCC6803, Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1797: 204–11.
- Chen M., Floetnmeyer M., and Bibby T.S. (2009) Supramolecular organization of phycobiliproteins in the chlorophyll d-containing cyanobacterium Acaryochloris marina, FEBS Lett. 583: 2535–39.
- Bibby T.S., Zhang Y.N., and Chen M. (2009) Biogeography of photosynthetic light-harvesting genes in marine phytoplankton, PLoS ONE 4:e4601.
- Swingley, W.D., Chen M., Cheung, P.C., et al (25 co-authors) (2008) Genome expansion in the chlorophyll d-producing cyanobacterium Acaryochloris marina, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105: 2005–10.
- Hoober J.K., Eggink L.L., and Chen M. (2007) Chlorophylls, ligands and assembly of light-harvesting complexes in chloroplasts, Photosyn. Res. 94:387–400.
- Chen M., and Cai, Z.-L. (2007) Theoretical study on the thermodynamic properties of chlorophyll d-peptides coordinating ligand, Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1767:603–609.
- Kühl M., Chen M., Ralph P., Schreiber U., and Larkum A.W.D. (2005) A niche for cyanobacteria containing chlorophyll d, Nature 433:820.
- Chen M., Hiller R.G., Howe C.J., and Larkum A.W.D. (2005) Unique origin and lateral transfer of prokaryotic chlorophyll-b and chlorophyll d light-harvesting systems, Mol. Biol. Evol. 22:21–28.
- Chen M., Eggink L.L., Hoober J.K., and Larkum A.W.D. (2005) Influence of structure on binding of chlorophylls to peptide ligands, J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 127:2052–53.
- Chen M., Telfer A., Lin, S., Pascal A., Larkum A.W.D., Barber, J., and Blankenship, R.E. (2005) The nature of the Photosystem II reaction centre in the chlorophyll d containing prokaryote, Acaryochloris marina, Photochem. Photobiol. Sci. 4:1060–64.
- Bibby T. S., Nield J., Chen M., Larkum A. W. D., and Barber J. (2003) Structure of a photosystem II supercomplex isolated from Prochloron didemni retaining its chlorophyll a/b light harvesting system, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 100:9050–54.
- Chen M., Quinnell R.G., and Larkum A.W.D. (2002) The major light-harvesting pigment proteins in Acaryochloris marina, FEBS Lett. 514:149–152.
- ARC Future Fellowship 2013-2016
- Finalist in Scientific Research by Australian Museum Eureka Prize 2012
- Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of Year 2011
- ARC QE II Fellowship 2008-2012
- ARC APD Fellowship 2004-2006
- ARC FT12 (current) "Biosynthetic and evolutionary pathways of red-shifted chlorophylls";
- ARC DP12 (current) "The role of chlorophyll f in photosynthesis";
- ARC DP09 (past), "Molecular mechanisms of spectra extension in photosynthesis: the substitution and formation of the novel pigment chlorophyll d";
- ARC DP08 (past), "The evolutionary transition from anaerobic to aerobic metabolism";
- US Provisional Patent Application Number: 61/346743
Title: Gene Constructs Comprising Nucleic Acids That Modulate Chlorophyll
Biosynthesis and Uses Thereof. (2010)
Inventors: Min Chen, Robert Willows, Robert Blankenship
Applicants: The University of Sydney (Australia), Macquarie University (Australia) and Washington University in St. Louis (U.S.A)