2013 Goldacre recipient Professor Min Chen
Novel chlorophylls and new direction in Photosynthesis research
Min Chen grew up in harbour city of Dalian in northeast China. She completed BSc. and MSc. degrees from Northeast Normal University, China and a PhD (2003) degree in Molecular Plant Physiology from University of Sydney. She did a short period of postdoctoral research at Research School of Biological Science of Australian National University in 2003. She was awarded ARC Australian Postdoctoral (APD) fellowship for 2004-2006, ARC QE II fellowship for 2008-2012 and further an ARC future fellowship for 2013-2016. She was the recipient of Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of Year 2011 and Robin Hill Award 2013 by The International Society of Photosynthesis Research.
In 2010, Dr Chen led the team of interdisciplinary scientists who identified a new type of chlorophyll, named chlorophyll f (Chen et al., 2010, Science 329:1318-19). This highly significant advance is underlined by the fact that this is, to date, the most red-shifted chlorophyll involved in oxygenic photosynthesis. The newly discovered chlorophyll f can use lower light energy than any other known chlorophyll. This is the only new chlorophyll reported in the last 67 years.
Chlorophyll f can absorb long wavelength light for photosynthesis, extending the range of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) range beyond the “red-edge” of chlorophylls a and b, i.e. beyond the visible light region. The extension of photosynthetically active radiation to 400-760 nm has the potential to improve photosynthetic efficiency. The discovery of the fifth chlorophyll, chlorophyll f, may be the gateway to developing the science of improving the efficiency of photosynthesis. The new molecule is chemically unique in its red-shifted optical absorption maximum, which may be exploited by scientists and engineers aiming to develop new biotechnologies to produce renewable energy from sunlight.
The discovery of chlorophyll f will force scientists to re-define the range of wavelengths that are photosynthetically active and to refine our understanding of the underlying chemistry of photosynthesis.
Professor Chen is currently working on photosynthesis and function of pigment-protein complexes including chlorophyll f-photosynthesis, biosynthesis of chlorophyll f and light-harvesting efficiency and their natural variation. As a part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, they are now increasingly concentrating on improving light harvesting efficiency by extending the photosynthetic active solar spectral region, enhancing light penetration into crop canopies and reducing the wastage of excess sunlight.
Contact Professor Min Chen
Chen M, Schliep M, Willows R, Cai Z-L, Neilan BA and Scheer H (2010) A red-shifted chlorophyll, Science 329:1318–1319.
Chen M and Blankenship RE (2011) Expanding the solar spectrum used by photosynthesis, Trends in Plant Science 16:427–431.
Chen M, Li Yaqiong, 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 RD, Blankenship RE and Chen M (2012) Extinction coefficient for re-shifted chlorophylls: chlorophyll d and chlorophyll f, Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1817:1292–1298.
Yaqiong Li and Min Chen (2015) Novel Chlorophylls and new direction in Photosynthesis research, Functional Plant Biology http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP14350