We are a premier research institute embedded at Michigan State University and funded by the US Department of Energy and other funding bodies. Our mission is to discover how photosynthetic organisms work on the molecular level, in order, ultimately, to develop technologies that improve human lives.
What We Stand For
Many solutions for 21st century problems will come from photosynthetic organisms. We need to understand how their components work together and how they thrive in natural environments, so that we can harness them for sustainable applications.
“PRL members are creative, intelligent, dedicated, healthy-living people at the forefront of plant science and synthetic biology.”
Eric Young, graduate student
What We Do
We focus on basic science of photosynthetic organisms, develop real-world applications, and provide a training ground for future scientists.
Basic research into the biology of plants, cyanobacteria, and algae. Projects include:
- Modeling photosynthesis in dynamic environments
- Resistance against pathogens, herbivores, and environmental stress
- Cell organization and metabolism
Innovative, ground-breaking applied research to address energy and food challenges:
- New technologies, used in over 26 countries, to diagnose plant health and performance
- Engineering bacteria for industrial and medical applications
- Green economy: biofuels and renewables through algae and microbial communities
We pride ourselves in providing graduate students and post-docs with:
- Quality research and educational environment
- Strategic institutional goals that allow trainees to pursue well-defined research projects
- Freedom to pursue individual research interests
- Legacy of prominent and award-winning alumni in academia and beyond
We are initially sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Our main mission is to study radiation damage in plants in case of a nuclear disaster.
Full Capacity Reached
The MSU-AEC Plant Research Lab is fully staffed and moved into its new quarters at Michigan State University.
DOE: A New Mission
The Atomic Energy Commission is replaced by the Department of Energy. We are now called the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, and our mission is to study basic plant processes, especially with regard to the growth of plants as a renewable resource.
First Group Projects
We want to tackle big scientific problems that are impossible to do in individual labs. Collaborative projects involve multiple researchers from within and beyond our walls.
Research is redirected to better match the priorities of the two Biosciences programs (Photosynthetic Systems and Physical Biosciences) in DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, addressing the fundamental science of energy capture, conversion, and storage in plants and microbes.
Synergy: A Way of Life
The group project model started in the 90s becomes the norm for all our research funded by the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences. At any one time, we pursue three major group projects involving all our 12 labs.
A Golden Anniversary
We celebrate our 50th anniversary.
For more of our history, check out "The First Fifty Years."
PRL at 55: What Comes Next?
PRL Director, Christoph Benning, reports on the state of the PRL.
Click to see the slides.
Selected Milestones & Achievements
A sample of achievements by current and former PRL members. The list items below change each time the browser is reloaded.
- Eighteen National Academy of Sciences members, including three current or emeritus faculty
- Five Highly Cited Researchers over the last five years, according to Thompson Reuters/Clarivate
- Discovered COI1 as the receptor for jasmonate, a plant defense hormone
- Discovered a cytosolic bypass and G6P shunt for the Calvin-Benson Cycle in plants
- Discovery of the mechanism for the biosynthesis of ABA, a plant stress hormone
- Discovered that the 32kd photosynthetic protein is the receptor for a common herbicide
Our core interdisciplinary research is funded by the US Department of Energy. Our labs also pursue independent research projects funded by other organizations.