Sheffield academic part of a team awarded over €7 million for pioneering research on photosynthesis


A University of Sheffield academic is part of a research team which has been awarded more than €7 million to continue pioneering research into photosynthesis by the European Research Council (ERC).

Professor Neil Hunter, Krebs Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield; Professor Josef Komenda from the Institute of Microbiology at the Czech Academy of Sciences; and Professor Dario Leister from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, have been awarded an ERC Synergy Grant.

Photosynthesis is a fundamental process on Earth, harnessing the energy of sunlight to generate the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat. However, plants and other photosynthetic organisms absorb only a fraction of the available solar energy and incur further losses converting this energy into biomass.

One of only 37 grants awarded in all subjects across Europe, the research will combine expertise in genetics, biochemistry and biophysics to design novel versions of photosynthesis. In the future this could lead to crop plants receiving more energy from sunlight, leading to increased food production and enhanced biofuel production.

Professor Neil Hunter, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, said: “It is an honour to be funded by the prestigious ERC Synergy programme. Dario, Josef and I look forward to applying synthetic biology and adaptive laboratory evolution approaches to the collection and storage of solar energy by cyanobacteria and plants.”

ERC Synergy Grants are awarded to small groups of researchers who combine their complementary skills, knowledge and resources and focus on a highly ambitious research project. The recipients will be able to tackle some of the most complex research problems, spanning multiple science disciplines.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “The selected projects show the added value of EU funding for curiosity-driven research that is clearly relevant to some of people’s key concerns such as healthier lives, a cleaner environment or a fairer economy. With each project gathering the complementary expertise of several ERC researchers, I am confident about the quality of the results of these scientific endeavours. They are likely to open up new opportunities and equip us to deal with the challenges of the future.”

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year it selects and funds the best researchers to run projects based in Europe.

Professor Jean-Pierre Burguignon, President of the ERC, said: “The results of this grant competition are further proof that the ERC is able to support excellent ideas and outstanding people wherever they may be located.”