Department of Plant Biology
Research: Resolving photosynthetic fluxes in a changing world
Photosynthesis drives life on this planet by providing the oxygen, food and energy required to support “higher” life forms – including us humans. With increasing population, and accompanying changes in consumption and climate, it is vital to understand how photosynthesis will respond to these greater challenges and explore opportunities to hack it to produce more food, fuel and fiber more sustainably. Research in our lab therefore focuses on resolving the biochemical, cellular and canopy-level mechanisms that determine photosynthetic fluxes of carbon and oxygen with the end goal to better model plant response to climate change and engineer more efficient crops.
If we can’t model or measure it, we don’t understand it
For many years, we have been able to use classic methods in gas and energy exchange to understand on a net level how much carbon dioxide a plant takes up or how much oxygen it produces from water splitting under a given condition. These measurements helped produce elegant models that connect plant ecophysiology with biochemistry and are currently used to estimate how ecosystems or crop yields respond to future changes in temperature or carbon dioxide concentration. While these models are good, they rely on many assumptions which have not yet been validated – especially under increased temperatures. Our lab challenges these assumptions using next-generation advances in metabolic flux analysis and isotopic gas exchange analysis to understand how the models can be improved to better represent plant responses to increased temperature.
If we don’t understand it, we can’t make it better
As we develop improved models of carbon dioxide fixation and related metabolic fluxes, we identify targets for improving photosynthesis. We then implement these targets in silico or in living plants to see if the results are improved photosynthesis. We can also use these refined models to determine if we can make more accurate predictions about the response of plants to changing conditions.
We need you
If you have made it this far and are interested in learning more, please contact Berkley directly. The lab is in current need of students and postdocs looking to work hard to push forward cutting edge science.
- Berkley J. Walker, Andy VanLoocke, Rebecca A. Slattery, Darren Drewry and Donald R. Ort. Chlorophyll can be reduced in crop canopies with little penalty to crop photosynthesis. Accepted. Plant Physiology
- Berkley Walker, Andy VanLoocke, Carl J. Bernacchi and Donald R. Ort. (2016) The costs of photorespiration to food production now and in the future. Annual Review of Plant Biology 67, 107-129.
- Berkley Walker and Donald R. Ort. (2015) Improved method for measuring the apparent CO2 photocompensation point resolves the impact of multiple internal conductances to CO2 to net gas exchange. Plant Cell & Environment 38 (11), 2462-2474.
- von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow, 2016-2017, Heinrich-Heine University
- Postdoctoral Researcher, 2013-2015, University of Illinois/USDA-ARS
- Ph.D. 2013, Washington State University
Berkley Walker's DNA synthesis proposal has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, to study how high temperatures impact plant enzymes that support photosynthesis.
Recently, our own Berkley Walker was recorded skiing across campus on the eve of a polar vortex. That recording went viral. Read why he thinks plants are even hardier than he was that day.