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

The Ort Lab

Donald Ort

Donald R. Ort
Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit, USDA/ARS
Robert Emerson Professor in Plant Biology and Crop Sciences
Departments of Plant Biology and Crop Science and
University of Illinois
1406 IGB, 1206 W. Gregory Drive
Urbana, IL 61801-3838
(217) 333-2093 e-mail:


B.S. 1971 Wake Forest University
Ph.D. 1974 Michigan State University

Professional Experience

Current and Recent Professional Activities

President, International Society for Photosynthesis Research (1998-01)
American Society of Plant Biologists Board of Trustees (1998-01)
President American Society of Plant Biologists (1996-97)
Associate Editor, Photosynthesis Research (1989-2005)
Consulting Editor, Advances in Photosynthesis (1996-present)
BARD Technical Advisory Committee (1998-02)
Editorial Committee Annual Reviews of Plant Biology (2002-2010)
Editor-in-Chief, Plant Physiology (2005- 2011)
Editorial Board, Tropical Plant Biology
Consulting Editor, Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration
International Advisory Board, Environment Control in Biology
DOE Energy Biosciences Panel member

Membership in Professional Societies

American Society of Plant Biologists
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
International Society of Photosynthesis Research
Agronomy Society

Honors and Awards

National Institutes of Health National Postdoctoral Service Award - 6/75 to 6/77
ARS Sabbatical Fellowship Award - 9/86 to 9/87
University of Illinois University Scholars Award - 9/86
USDA Merit Awards - 1985, 1988 through 2006
Midwest Area Senior Research Scientist of the Year Award 1993
ARS Supergrade Scientist 2003
College of ACES Distinquished Service Award 2005
College of ACES Team Research Award 2006
American Society of Plant Biologists Kettering Award 2006

Summary of University Service

Current activities Highlights of Past activities: since 1994

Current and Recent Advisory and Consultant Activities

Federal funding agency panels International Photosynthesis Congress Vice-Chair of 1995 and Chair of 1997 Gordon Research Conference on Temperature Stress in Plants
Chairman of 1998 Midwest Conference of Photosynthesis, Marshall, IN
NRC Polar Biology Workshop, 2002
USDA/ARS National Program Assessment Committee Chair, 2004
Research Integrity Investigation Panel Chair, University of Illinois 2004
Advisor, Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan 2006

Current Research Interests

Over the past two decades, my research interests have focused on the effect that specific environmental factors and abiotic stresses have on the photosynthetic performance of crop plants. Currently my research team of post-doctoral associates and predoctoral graduate students are investigating the molecular and biochemical basis of the chilling sensitivity of warm climate crops and the interactions of crop plant photosynthesis with the rapid changes that are occurring in the atmosphere.

Cool temperatures and warm climate crops. Many important agronomic species grown in temperate climates have been imported from warmer tropical and subtropical habitats (e.g., corn, soybean, cotton, tomato). Unlike native temperate climate species, most plants from warm climate evolutionary origins have very little capacity to acclimate to cool much less freezing temperatures. Because the cool temperature sensitivity of these crops plays a central role in determining the growing range as well as annual variations in their economic success, there is intense interest in discovering the mechanistic bases for low temperature sensitivity. It is hoped that by defining the primary chilling-induced lesions that cause the metabolic dysfunctions in warm climate plants that it will be possible to devise strategies to minimize the sensitivity. However, the relevant physiological basis of chilling sensitivity depends critically on the seasonal climatic conditions of the target growing region, whether the low temperature episodes occur at night or in the light, as well as on the species of warm climate plant under consideration. These issues are considered in devising a research strategy to understand the underlying mechanisms of chilling sensitivity.

Impacts of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and tropospheric ozone on photosynthesis and productivity of soybean and corn. Corn-Soybean is the largest ecosystem in the US, dominating the Midwest. I am co-PI of SoyFACE ( a unique open-air laboratory that uses fast-feedback control technology to treat large fully replicated areas with future predicted levels of CO2, ozone, and soil moisture. This facility provides multi-user training and research on topics from soil microbes and gene expression to regional economies, carbon cycle and atmosphere. My research group is investigating the effects of atmospheric change on photosynthesis and canopy energy balance, as well as the interaction of increased atmospheric CO2 and drought.

Genomic Ecology of Global Change. How ecosystems will respond to rapid changes in climate represents one of the great scientific challenges of this century. Human activities are altering the composition of our atmosphere (CO2 and O3), affecting the Earth's climate system (elevated temperature and water deficits) and introducing invasive species, thus altering the capacity of native and agro-ecosystems to provide critical goods and services including food, fiber, fuel, clean air and water. Though the phenomenology of ecosystem responses to elements of global change is receiving considerable attention, it has been predominantly limited to descriptive research at the level of the individual. The University of Illinois has established the only facility worldwide for studying the simultaneous effects of rising carbon dioxide, ozone, and drought on plants under completely open-air conditions. We are therefore in a unique position to establish an internationally unique research program to examine the effects of global atmospheric change on the transcriptome and proteome of agro-ecosystems. The aim of the Genomic Ecology of Global Change theme within the Institute of Genomic Biology is to produce the scientific foundation enabling the use of information obtainable at the level of genomes and proteomes of species and communities to predict the effect of environmental changes on the structure and function of ecosystems. Mathematical modeling and bioinformatics provide the conceptual foundation and data analysis tools for making sound scientific inference. To achieve this aim we have assembled an interdisciplinary team of eight faculty spanning molecular to ecological research, within an overarching link of mathematical modeling and informatics.

Publications (2000 to present)

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last updated September 8, 2011
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