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Photosynthetic proteins in action! Towards a real-time investigation of how light-harvesting is regulated in plants

Nicoletta Liguori (ICFO)
Tuesday, 13 February 2024 12:00

Place: conference room, IMDEA Nanociencia.


Plants provide a natural example of how solar energy can be converted into chemical energy in the presence of oxygen while avoiding photooxidation. It has now been established that plants prevent photooxidation by activating a rapidly inducible and reversible photoprotective mechanism at the level of their light-harvesting complexes. However, the precise activation process of this photoprotective mechanism remains unknown.

In this lecture, the audience will gain insight into the current understanding of:

i) How light-harvesting is regulated in plants and, more generally, in oxygenic photosynthetic organisms.

ii) The experimental and computational tools under development, particularly by this group, aimed at unraveling the molecular mechanisms governing the activation of photoprotection in photosynthetic organisms.

Understanding both the mechanism and the rate at which plants can activate or deactivate photoprotection will provide answers to a long-standing open question in the fields of biophysics and physical chemistry. This knowledge will also be instrumental in inspiring new studies focused on maximizing plant productivity through the optimization of photoprotective responses—a recent, groundbreaking avenue of research (de Souza et al., Science 2022; Kromdijk et al., Science 2016).

Suggested literature:

Liguori, N., van Stokkum, I., Muzzopappa, F., Kennis, J., Kirilovsky, D., & Croce, R. (2022). The molecular origin of the OCP-dependent non-photochemical quenching mechanism in cyanobacteria. Chemrxiv

Liguori, N., Xu, P., Van Stokkum, I. H., Van Oort, B., Lu, Y., Karcher, D., ... & Croce, R. (2017). Different carotenoid conformations have distinct functions in light-harvesting regulation in plants. Nature communications, 8(1), 1-9.


Short bio: 

N.L. is a physicist with experimental and computational experience in biomolecular physics, especially in photosynthesis. She graduated cum laude in physics at Università degli Studi Roma Tre (IT), after an MSc thesis in molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of biomolecules at UC Berkeley (US) in T. Head-Gordon’s group. For her Ph.D., she joined the group of Biophysics of Photosynthesis headed by R. Croce at the VU Amsterdam (NL). During her Ph.D., she combined ultrafast spectroscopy with MD simulations to investigate how photosynthetic organisms avoid photodamage at the molecular level.

In 2018 she obtained a competitive national grant (VENI) from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), that allowed her to to establish her independent research line in the LaserLab of the VU Amsterdam. The focus of her project was the development of a novel spectroscopic tool able to capture in real time the role of the environment in modulating the spectroscopic properties of molecules. At the LaserLab, she was also Project Leader of several competitive grants awarded by NWO to run MD simulations on the national supercomputing facilities.

In October 2022, N.L. was appointed principal investigator at ICFO - The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ES), within the elite CELLEX NEST fellow program. She was later awarded a prestigious national La Caixa Junior Leader grant in support of her research. Her group, called “Photon Harvesting in Plants and Biomolecules” (PHPB), develops novel spectroscopic and computational tools to study the functional response of photoactive systems to changes in structure, light and environment.