Dr. Alex Payne-Dwyer, Biology and Physics, York
Pyrenoids are a type of protein liquid droplets, or ‘condensate’ found in marine algae and play a vital role in photosynthesis, capturing over a third of all global CO2 and producing an incredible 50% of the oxygen we breathe. Many algal species have evolved pyrenoids independently, each with a distinct usage of the carbon fixation enzyme Rubisco and linker protein. The precise balance of these proteins allows for enhanced photosynthetic productivity by up to 60% compared to land plants. The goal of the project will be to understand how the biophysics of these proteins leads to this increase in productivity. The student will mix different combinations of Rubisco and linker proteins to form droplets and study them using high-speed confocal and super-resolution microscopy, as well as using optical tweezers to measure their viscosity and surface tension. Your findings will be compared to properties of pyrenoids in live algae in order to generate realistic models of how pyrenoids assemble and function dynamically inside cells. This represents a cross-departmental collaboration between biologists (Mackinder Lab) and physicists (Leake Lab). Students will be expected to present their findings orally at a research day in York in September 2023.