Display Accessibility Tools

Accessibility Tools


Highlight Links

Change Contrast

Increase Text Size

Increase Letter Spacing

Dyslexia Friendly Font

Increase Cursor Size


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.

PHOTOSYNTHESIS FOCUS Basic research on photosynthesis, metabolism, and defense; Creating new technologies targeting renewables, agriculture, and medical fields
EXCELLENT TRAINING 50 years of training successful scientists; Legacy of awards and job placements in academia, industry, and government
SCIENTIFIC IMPACT 12 internationally recognized researchers; Prolific publication record; Major funding from the US Department of Energy
COLLECTIVE POWER Cross-disciplinary research that tackles big scientific problems impossible to solve in individual labs
TIGHT-KNIT COMMUNITY A friendly group of over 120 members; Internationally and culturally diverse
"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.

Scientist working with a plant

Fundamental Research

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
view projects

Green Solutions

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
View Projects Our Tech
Science instrument clipping over a plant leaf
Two scientists at a lab bench

Future Scientists

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
more Information

Brief History


The Beginnings

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.


Probing Photosynthesis

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
Plant Biology Labs building seen from the gardens

Selected Funders

Our core interdisciplinary research is funded by the US Department of Energy. Our labs also pursue independent research projects funded by other organizations.

DOE logo Grant # DE-FG02-91ER20021
NIH logo
hhmi logo
NSF logo
MSU Foundation logo
The McKnight Foundation logo
NASA logo
USAID logo
MSU AgBioResearch logo