Modelling effects of climate change on photosynthetic enzymes to find solutions for future food and environmental security
This project is part of the ONE Planet DTP. Find out more here: https://research.ncl.ac.uk/one-planet/
Photosynthesis, the most important biological process on a planetary scale, is limited under high temperature by the CO2 fixing enzyme, Rubisco, and its catalytic chaperone, Rubisco activase. Rubisco is the most abundant enzyme on a planet with estimates of its global mass ranging from 0.04 to 0.4 Gt, where the upper limit approaching current global mass of humans. And like humans, Rubisco punches above its weight in its ability to change ecosystems. Sage et al. (J Exp Bot 2008) showed that Rubisco and Rubisco activase could be the single principal control over a high thermal sensitivity and hence the future success of black spruce, the predominant primary producer and a major carbon sink in the boreal forests of North America. Despite Rubisco being the key player in both CO2 fixation and the future success of species, very little work has been done to model how its performance will affect future of ecosystems under different climate change scenarios. We published Rubisco kinetics under a range of temperatures (Orr et al. & Hermida et al. Plant Phys 2016) and modelled which Rubiscos will perform better under rising [CO2] & temperature (Sharwood et al. Nature Plants 2016).
The proposed project will combine fields of bio- and environmental informatics using our data on enzyme properties combined with data on protein sequences and structure, species distribution and climate from publicly available databases. The major objective is to model effects of climate change on Rubisco and Rubisco activase performance on the molecular, species, ecosystem, and planetary levels. This PhD project will be synergistic to recently funded one on synthetic biology of Rubisco and inform human-assisted evolution of heat tolerance in key species of ecological and agricultural importance, which could mitigate negative effects of climate change, while meeting nutritional and energy demands of a growing world population – key UN sustainable development goals.
Prerequisites: enthusiasm, initiative and an ability to undertake computational research; at least a 2:1 honours degree in biology, ecology, or computational science is expected.
For more information, please contact Dr Maxim Kapralov ([Email Address Removed]).
Fully funded (3.5 years) PhD studentship awards available for entry September 2019. Each award includes fees (Home/EU), an annual living allowance (£14,777) and a Research Training Support Grant (for travel, consumables, as required).