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Professor Christopher Howe


Photosynthetic Organisms in Biotechnology and Health    We are interested in a number of aspects of the molecular biology of photosynthetic organisms and their exploitation, including the malaria parasite Plasmodium.    

Specific areas include:   

  • Direct electricity production from photosynthetic micro-organisms.  Surprisingly, cyanobacterial and eukaryotic algal cells produce a small amount of external current on illumination, which can be harvested by an anode and used to drive an external circuit. We are interested in understanding how to make these ‘biophotovoltaic’ devices more efficient, and to drive additional processes, such as hydrogen production. We are also developing similar devices using land plants.   
  • Manipulation of photosynthetic microorganisms, including cyanobacteria and purple photosynthetic bacteria, for production of useful products. This includes work on light harvesting, electron transfer (including a novel c-type cytochrome we discovered) and metabolic engineering (including expressing heterologous genes and modifying endogenous ones). We have a wide range of molecular genetic platforms available for this. We are also trying to develop dinoflagellate algae as a biotechnology platform. 
  • Novel antimalarial targets. Surprisingly, the malaria parasite Plasmodium has a photosynthetic ancestry and a remnant chloroplast, which is essential for the parasite to survive. This offers an attractive target for antimalarials. We are focusing on transcription of the remnant chloroplast genome and post-transcriptional RNA processing. We have identified a number of candidate nuclear genes for chloroplast proteins that are likely to be involved in these processes.


  • Hydrogen production through oxygenic photosynthesis using the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 in a bio-photoelectrolysis cell (BPE) system. McCormick AJ, Bombelli P, Lea-Smith DJ, Bradley RW, Scott AM, Fisher AC, Smith AG, Howe CJ. (2013) Energy & Environmental Science 6:2682-2690.    
  • Thylakoid terminal oxidases are essential for the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 to survive rapidly changing light intensities Lea-Smith DJ, Ross N, Zori M, Bendall DS, Dennis JS, Scott SA, Smith AG, Howe CJ. (2013) Plant Physiology 162:484-495.    
  • The purification of crude glycerol derived from biodiesel manufacture and its use as a substrate by Rhodopseudomonas palustris to produce hydrogen. Pott RWM, Howe CJ, Dennis JS (2014) Bioresource Technology 152:464-470.

Professor Chris Howe

Professor Chris Howe
Department of Biochemistry
Office Phone: 01223 333688

Second supervisors:

Alison Smith (Plant Sciences)

John Dennis (Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology)