Protein enables discovery of quantum effect in photosynthesis

Photosynthesis transforms light, carbon dioxide and water into chemical energy in plants and some bacteria.When it comes to studying energy transfer in photosynthesis, it’s good to think “outside the bun.” That’s what Robert Blankenship, Ph.D., professor of biology and chemistry in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, did when he contributed a protein that he calls the taco shell protein to a study performed by his collaborators at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley. The protein enabled the surprising discovery of a quantum effect in photosynthesis.

Researcher gives hard thoughts on soft inheritance

Richards has observed the inheritance of epigenetic factors in plants.Eric Richards, Ph.D., professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, writing in the May issue of Nature Reviews Genetics, analyzes recent and past research in epigenetics and the history of evolution and proposes that epigenetics should be considered a form of soft inheritance, citing examples in both the plant and mammalian kingdoms.

Chemists get electrons to ‘break on through to the other side’

David Kilper/WUSTL PhotoChristine Kirmaier (left) and Dewey Holten making adjustments in their sophisticated laser laboratory. Their findings advance the understanding of photosynthesis.In the famous Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken,” the persona, forced to travel one of two roads, takes the one less traveled by, and “that has made all the difference.” Chemists at Washington University in St. Louis and Stanford University, in kinship with Frost, have modified a key protein in a bacterium to move electrons along a pathway not normally traveled by. They got this to happen 70 percent of the time. That yield “makes all the difference.” More…

‘Refreshing twist’

Allison Miller discusses jocotes with a man in southern Honduras.Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis report that farmers and families in Central America have saved genetic variation in the jocote (ho-CO-tay), (Spondias purpurea), a small tree that bears fruit similar to a tiny mango. And they’ve done this by taking the plants out of the forest, their wild habitat, and growing them close to home for family and local consumption Allison Miller, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, and former graduate student in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, and Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology Barbara Schaal, Ph.D., from Washington University, in conjunction with Peter Raven, Ph.D. Engelmann Professor of Botany at Washington University and Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, have shown multiple domestications of the jocote in Central America in the midst of large-scale deforestation, a practice that endangers genetic diversity .

New type of RNA polymerase discovered in plants

*Arabidopsis thaliana*A team headed by Craig Pikaard, Ph.D., Washington University professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, has discovered a fourth kind of RNA polymerase found only in plants and speculated to have been a plant feature for more than 200 million years.

New book explains plants as medicines

A new book by botanists at Washington University in St. Louis enlightens both consumers of natural products and herbs and traditional physicians. Medical Botany, Plants Affecting Human Health, is the second edition of a 1977 book, Medical Botany, published by Walter Lewis, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biology, and Memory Elvin-Lewis, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and ethnobotany in biomedicine in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.