Wim F. J. Vermaas

Professor: School of Life Sciences

photo of Prof. Vermaas

Came to Arizona State University in 1986 after having worked on various aspects of photosynthesis at the Agricultural University in Wageningen (The Netherlands), the University of Illinois, Michigan State University, the Technical University (Berlin, Germany) and at the Du Pont Experimental Station. The research in his laboratory focuses on the molecular genetics of photosynthesis-related proteins.

Research Statement

Genomic tools complement approaches involving molecular biology, cell physiology and biochemistry to understand energy conversion and production of important resources in living systems, and to apply them in novel and useful ways (e.g., production of high-value biomass). Our group, consisting of a balanced mix of graduate students, postdoctoral associates, staff, and undergraduate students, capitalizes on the productive application of genomic and molecular biological techniques to elucidate physiological processes in cells and membranes of photosynthetic systems, with the long-term view to use photosynthetic organisms for bioenergy generation and renewable resource production.

The majority of research projects in our group utilizes a cyanobacterium by the name of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 (Synechocystis 6803 for short). The reason for using Synechocystis 6803 is that its photosynthetic system is essentially identical to that of plants; moreover -- in contrast to "real" plants -- it is a molecular biologist's dream: its genome (some 3.6 million base pairs) has been sequenced in its entirety, it is spontaneously transformable (i.e., it takes up DNA by itself), it can integrate DNA into its genome by homologous recombination, and it can grow in the absence of photosynthesis if it needs to.

Using this system, we can take out specific genes or put back in genes with particular modifications. We then can study the in vivo effects of the lack or modification of the corresponding protein on the physiology of the organism. In this way, physiologically important biochemical pathways and their regulation can be elucidated. This research relates cell physiology with biochemistry, and helps to build a fundamental understanding regarding how changes in levels or activities of particular proteins translate to alterations in the physiology of the organism. As an example of the types of regulation that need to occur at the cellular level, a cyanobacterium carries out photosynthesis and respiration in the same compartment, and actually these two processes utilize some of the same protein complexes in thylakoid membranes. How these two processes are regulated independently yet in a coordinated fashion is one of several questions that is addressed in our group.

Possibilities for research projects with the Synechocystis 6803 system are almost unlimited. Just a few examples:  we are using this system to study the interaction between chlorophyll synthesis and assembly of chlorophyll-binding complexes, to identify protein residues in specific polypeptides that are of functional importance, to find "new" genes that affect and regulate photosynthesis and respiration, and to develop new molecular-biological tools to study protein structure and function. It is an exciting field of research, providing students with excellent interdisciplinary research training opportunities in molecular life sciences.

Visit the Synechocystis site at http://lsweb.la.asu.edu/Synechocystis/

Recent publications

Course Information: MBB 343 / BIO 343 -- Genetic Engineering and Society (an on-line syllabus and more)

Contact Information:

Wim Vermaas
School of Life Sciences and
Center for the Study of Early Events in Photosynthesis
Arizona State University
Box 874501
Tempe, AZ 85287-4501 USA

Tel: (480) 965-6250
Fax: (480) 965-6899
Email: Wim@asu.edu

Office Room Number: LS E-549
Lab Room Numbers: LS E-504/550

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Photosynthesis Center

Arizona State University

Box 871604

Room PSD 209

Tempe, AZ 85287-1604


26 August 2009

phone: (480) 965-1963

fax: (480) 965-2747

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