Christoph Benning

Christoph Benning

PRL Director, MSU Foundation Professor
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Department of Plant Biology

  Office: (517) 355-1609
     Lab: (517) 353-7876         

    MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory
     Michigan State University
     Plant Biology Laboratories
     612 Wilson Road, Room 110
     East Lansing, MI 48824


Ph.D. 1991, Michigan State University
M.S. 1986, Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet, Freiburg, Germany


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Research: Lipid Metabolism in Photosynthetic Organisms 

Research in the Benning laboratory focuses on lipid metabolism in photosynthetic organisms. One area of particular interest is the assembly and maintenance of the photosynthetic membrane in plants and algae. The photosynthetic membrane contains a unique set of polar lipids. Their specific functions in photosynthesis, especially during dynamic conditions, is investigated by applying state-of-the-art phenotyping to Arabidopsis and Chlamydomonas lipid mutants.


Arabidopsis plants (Image taken by Yang Yang)


Different membranes cooperate in the synthesis of lipid precursors needed for the assembly of the photosynthetic membrane. Thus, the lipid transport mechanisms involving chloroplast envelope membranes are investigated.


Dividing cells of the microala Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
(Image taken by Tomomi Takeuchi)


Photosynthetic organisms are exposed to a changing environment which can lead to stress inhibiting growth. Lipid remodeling in response to freezing or nutrient deprivation is an area of intense study in the Benning lab. Nutrient-deprived algae enter a state of cellular quiescence. Cell divisions cease and metabolism is redirected to accumulate storage lipids. The Benning laboratory is identifying factors governing entry into, and exit from quiescence in single-celled algae. Approaches ranging from biochemistry, genetics, and systems biology to modeling are used to gain insights into this process with the goal to optimize algae for biofuel production.


Cells of the Microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica CCMP1779 with lipid droplets (green) and nuclei (blue) visualized. (Image taken by Agnieszka Zienkiewicz)


The Benning laboratory is also involved in the design of novel biofuel plants with enhanced energy density in their vegetative tissues through the induction of storage oil accumulation. Storage lipids are deposited in lipid droplets and their mechanism of formation is investigated in algae. Moreover using a synthetic biology approach, the Benning laboratory is exploring lipid droplets as an enzyme assembly platform for the synthesis of novel compounds.


Leaf blade of the model grass Brachypodium distachyon accumulating oil. Lipid droplets are visualized in green, chloroplasts in red. (Image taken by Agnieszka Zienkiewicz)