A new study published in Nature confirms for the first time that a single photon–the smallest quantity of light possible–can initiate the first step of photosynthesis, one of nature’s essential processes. The study, conducted by an interdisciplinary team led by Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB) senior faculty scientist Graham Fleming and Energy Sciences Area senior faculty scientist Birgitta Whaley, solidifies our current understanding of photosynthesis and will help answer questions about how life works on the smallest of scales, where quantum physics and biology meet.
As a young man, Kenneth Sauer joined Berkeley Lab four years after arriving in Berkeley for his postdoctoral position with famed chemist Melvin Calvin. By that time, he had accepted an assistant professorship in UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry to continue what would be his life’s scientific work on the intricate physical process of photosynthesis. He remained active for over 50 years and was, most recently, a professor emeritus of chemistry at UC Berkeley. Sauer died at the age of 91 following a brief illness on November 6, 2022.
When plants absorb more light energy than they can use—such as during a brief period of intense illumination—they have mechanisms to dissipate the excess energy as heat, thereby avoiding damage to their light-harvesting pigment complexes. Research has suggested that engineering plants’ photoprotection capabilities to minimize productivity loss could increase crop yields by up to 30 percent. And that would go a long way toward meeting future global food demand. However, significant gaps remain in scientists’ understanding of the molecular details underlying these mechanisms, including how they are triggered and their activation dynamics. Now, work by Berkeley Lab scientists, reported in pair of recent papers, provides several key insights into the mechanisms underlying one type of photoprotection.
Graham R. Fleming, senior scientist in the Molecular Biophysics & Integrated Bioimaging Division, has been named an Honorary Member of the Chemical Society of Japan (CSJ). The award will be presented at the 97th CSJ Annual Meeting in March 2017. Fleming will join a select group of only fourteen living honorary members, five of whom are Nobel Laureates. The society was founded in 1878. With its current membership exceeding 34,000, it is one of the most affluent academic societies in Japan, covering most areas of pure and applied chemistry.
Graham R. Fleming, senior scientist in the Molecular Biophysics & Integrated Bioimaging Division, has won the Royal Chemistry Society’s Faraday Lectureship Prize 2016. The prize was awarded for experimental and theoretical achievements that have redefined the study and understanding of fundamental chemical and photobiological processes in liquids, solutions and proteins. A particular emphasis in Fleming’s research is photosynthetic light harvesting and its regulation via nonphotochemical quenching.