Bio-inspired design of novel light-harvesting antenna complexes


Photosynthesis provides energy to sustain almost all known life, the oxygen we breathe, our food, many natural products and has ever increasing applications in biotechnology.

Therefore, the importance of photosynthesis cannot be overstated, and as we seek a more sustainable relationship with the environment, our reliance on photosynthesis will only increase.

In order to satisfy the increasing dependence we place on photosynthesis, the efficiency with which sunlight can be converted into fixed biomass and high-value products must be improved.

One of the major inefficiencies in the conversion of solar-to-chemical energy lies in light harvesting. Natural phototrophs have evolved to utilise only limited regions of the solar spectrum, meaning many wavelengths of light are not absorbed and their energy is essentially wasted.

In this multidisciplinary project, novel artificial antenna complexes, inspired by the phycobilisomes of cyanobacteria and algae, will be designed and constructed in the model purple phototrophic bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides.

These new complexes will absorb light in the currently underutilised regions of the spectrum and be integrated into the native antenna system to transfer the energy to the reaction centres, where the conversion of light to chemical energy begins.

A wide range of methods including molecular biology, protein design, protein engineering, protein purification, spectroscopy and cryogenic electron microscopy will be used to design, test and refine the new light harvesting complexes to significantly expand the spectrum of light that can be utilised for photosynthetic growth.
The successful candidate will join a multidisciplinary team that spans UEA and the Norwich Research Park.

They will also join a collaborative network that includes the University of Sheffiled, LMU Munich (Germany) and the Institure of Microbiology in Třeboň (Czech Republic).

This will provide many opportunities for collaborative research and expand upon the wealth of desireable and widely transferrable skills provided by the project


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Qian P, Croll TI, Hitchcock A, Jackson PJ, Salisbury JH, Castro-Hartmann P, Sader K, Swainsbury DJK and Hunter CN. (2021) Cryo-EM structure of the dimeric Rhodobacter sphaeroides RC-LH1 core complex at 2.9 Å: the structural basis for dimerization. Biochemical Journal 478/21:3923-3937.

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Swainsbury DJK, Faries K, Niedzwiedzki DM, Martin EC, Flinders AJ, Canniffe DP, Shen G, Bryant DA, Kirmaier C, Holten D and Hunter CN. (2018) Engineering the LH2 B800 site to reduce chlorophyll specificity to enable assembly of hybrid chlorophyll containing antenna systems. Biochimica et Biophysica acta Bioenergetics 1860/3:209-223 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbabio.2018.11.008.