Improving photosynthesis

Increasing crop productivity is essential for global food security - our research focuses on finding novel ways to deal with this challenge. One major limitation of productivity is the low efficiency of photosynthetic CO2 assimilation. We are currently exploring several approaches to understand and overcome this problem:

Engineering biophysical carbon concentrating mechanisms into higher plants

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii


Most plants rely on passive diffusion for photosynthetic CO2 assimilation. We are investigating whether the biophysical carbon concentrating mechanism (CCM) from green algae (e.g. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) can be utilised to increase photoassimilation rates and hence productivity (Atkinson et al., 2016; 2017). In collaboration with members of the  Combining Algal and Plant Photosynthesis (CAPP) consortium, we are working towards a full characterisation of the algal CCM (Meyer et al., 2016). Currently we are using mathematical modelling to assist in the design of a functional biophysical CCM in photosynthetic mesophyll cells of the model C3 plant species Arabidopsis thaliana (funded by the BBSRC).

Characteristics of Rubisco

Photosynthetic CO2 assimilation is limited by the properties of the primary assimilating enzyme, Rubisco. We employ precision genome editing approaches to change the properties and expression of the Rubisco holoenzyme in Arabidopsis, with the aim of gaining a better understanding of how the holoenzyme's characteristics might be modified to design a more appropriate Rubisco for crop plants. 

Arabidopsis thaliana

Dynamic capture of plant growth

Reconstruction of Arabidopsis rosette 

We are working with the Centre for Machine Vision (Bristol Robotics Lab, UWE) to develop low-cost hardware and software tools to track plants throughout the growth period. With Dr Sotirios Tsaftaris (UoE, Eng) and Prof. Karen Halliday, we are developing computer vision algorithms to extract important traits and models to predict growth and productivity (funded by the BBSRC).   



Growth under fluctuating environments

In the natural environment, plants need to adapt quickly to prevailing conditions. They achieve this, in part, by dynamically co-ordinating photosynthesis and the allocation of newly fixed carbon to ensure optimal rates of growth and fitness. The cytosolic regulatory metabolite fructose 2,6-bisphosphate (Fru-2,6-P2) is central to this process. With the Kruger lab (University of Oxford) we have shown that, under fluctuating environments, Fru-2,6-P2 rapidly modulates the partitioning of photassimilate to buffer photosynthetic capacity (McCormick & Kruger, 2015). We are interested in expanding this work to explore the interactions of light and temperature signalling with primary metabolism.

Photosynthetic microorganisms

Cyanobacterial biofilm

Cyanobacteria are central to several emerging biotechnologies that use light and photosynthesis to drive the production of high value biofuels and biochemicals. Work with the Howe Lab (University of Cambridge) has led to the development of novel photosynthetic microbial fuel cells ("biophotovoltaic" devices) that utilise unicellular species, such as Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, to produce electricity (McCormick et al., 2011) and drive hydrogen production (McCormick et al., 2013).

BPV device


We have recently released a broad review of biophotovoltaic research (McCormick et al., 2015).


In collaboration with Baojun Wang (UoE), we are developing synthetic biology approaches to generate novel cyanobacterial strains for the production of high value chemicals (funded by the BBSRC NIBB - PHYCONET and the IBioIC).