Lay summary of my PhD Project

How algae acclimate to changing light conditions

In the process of photosynthesis, organisms are able to absorb Sun light and in a series of reactions convert it into sugars. Those highly energetic molecules are then stored in different forms in photosynthetic organisms such as plants or green algae, and can be used for various purposes, for instance as a source of energy in the form of biofuels.

The way photosynthetic organisms are tuned to capture solar energy amazes researchers. If we could understand better the processes that are involved in capturing and transferring light energy, we could use this knowledge to improve how fast the green algae will grow and how many energetic molecules they will produce. And ultimately, we could improve industrial exploitation of microalgae.

We know that the availability and quality of light influence the photosynthetic efficiency, therefore my task in the project is to help to understand the level of such influences. I am focusing on how mechanisms developed by algae in order to deal with such changes affect the photosynthetic reaction. When algae are lacking light they try to absorb as much light as possible, on the other hand when light is too strong, they ‘waste’ energy to protect themselves against damage.

Based on our current understanding of the photosynthetic reactions I am developing theoretical models of the process that starts with the absorption of light and ends up with the synthesis of ATP: the trading molecule that is necessary for the production of sugars. I am using experimental data to calibrate my model and validate it and any discrepancies between my predictions and observations are considered as a gap in our theoretical understanding and a space for improvement. I hope to contribute to selecting the optimal light conditions for algae growth and to help to understand to what extent we can stimulate the energy transfer by using different light spectra and intensities.