Molecular biochemical basis for environmental effects on photosynthesis and photosynthetic energy transduction

The Ort Lab

Aleel K. Grennan (Kat)

Dr. Aleel K. Grennan
Senior Research Specialist, Institute of Genomic Biology
University of Illinois
1201 W Gregory Dr
Urbana, IL 61801 USA

Want to learn more about plants or take an introductory biology class from a plant perspective? I will be teaching Introduction to Plant Biology during the Spring 2016 semester. Class meets MWF and labs are Tuesday or Thursday.

My primary research interests lie in the role of the plastid in plant growth and development and as well as the part this important organelle plays in how a plant responds to the environment. In the Ort Lab, my major project is funded through ARPA-e PETRO program. The ultimate goal of our project is to engineer sugarcane and sweet sorghum to produce oils that can be used as biofuels. Although both of these plants are highly productive, the carbon demand to produce the oils is high. To overcome this hurdle we are modifying the plants to increase the amount of sunlight captured by the leaves. We have two approaches to do this, the first is to decrease the chlorophyll content of the leaves. This will allow more light to reach deeper into the canopy, increasing whole plant photosynthetic rates. The second approach is to increase chloroplast size. Increasing chloroplast size can have a couple of effects, one being an increase in reflectance of light within the leaf the other is the possibile 'sieve effect' created by concentrating chlorophyll in the larger chloroplasts.

Microscopy images and data from this project were used in a collaboration with electronic music composer Benjamin D. Whiting. This fruitful collaboration has culminated with the 8-channel surround electroacoustic fixed media piece "Illumina! Arabidopsis thaliana" which traces the sonic voyage of light and its possible fates when it encounters a leaf. This piece has been presented at both national and international venues and has been well received. Benjamin and I greatly enjoyed working together on this project and are talking about future collaborations.

I have a second project focusing on plant senescence, specifically the role of redox regulation in chlorophyll degradation.

I am also involved in outreach in the community to engage people in science and try to help cure "plant blindness"!

Research Opportunities
Are you an undergraduate or high school student looking to find out what it is like to work in a research lab or gain research experience? I'm always looking for students interested in directed and independent research projects. Contact me for available projects or project ideas you have.

Refereed Publications
Complete publication list on PubMed or Google Scholar.

The IGB Core Facilities recently got a Zeiss Light Sheet microscope! It is making my work much easier since I can now measure the light path within the leaf as well as make 3-D reconstructions of the cells to get more accurate chloroplast surface and area estimates. I am also getting some amazing images. Some of my moss images were selected for the Art of Science 5.0 exhibit sponsored by the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

col0Surface col0


top row: Arbidopsis thaliana leaf cell with chloroplasts filled; Arabidopsis leaf chloroplasts with surface filling; Sorghum leaf
bottom row: moss collected from side walk in Champaign, IL.
All images taken using a Zeiss Lightsheet Z.1 and analysed using Imaris image analysis software.

The OpenSPIM wiki has instructions to build your own machine.

Back to top
last updated November 7, 2016
Send web site comments to: Kat