Donald A. Bryant is the Ernest C. Pollard Professor of Biotechnology and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, Research Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Montana State University and Visiting Professor, Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published nearly 190 papers over the past 10 years (392 total).
Bryant is a microbial (eco)physiologist, who has rigorously applied cutting-edge genomics, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology to study chlorophototrophic bacteria—Cyanobacteria, Chloroflexi, Chlorobi, and Acidobacteria—for 45 years. His recent studies demonstrating that cyanobacteria extensively remodel their photosynthetic apparatus by synthesizing new chlorophylls, phycobiliproteins, and reaction centers in far-red light explains how these organisms can grow at the bottom of dense microbial mats [Science 345:1312-17 (2014) and Science 353:aaf9178 (2016)]. Introduction of this capability into crop plants could significantly increase their productivity by expanding the usable light for photosynthesis into the far-red range (700–800 nm). In an elegant example of using his broad expertise to solve a previously intractable problem, his elucidation of (bacterio-)chlorophyll and carotenoid biosynthetic pathways directly led to structures for the BChl supramolecular structures in chlorosomes, light-harvesting complexes of green bacteria. His broad, deep knowledge of photosynthesis and metabolism is represented by studies of microbial mats in Yellowstone hot springs, where 17 chlorophototrophic members from six phyla and ~325 total bacteria occur. Using systems biology/-omics approaches, Bryant and collaborators have made impressive progress in advancing our understanding of the structure, interdependence, and integration of members of such communities. His discovery of Chloracidobacterium thermophilum [Science 317:523-526 (2007)], the first chlorophototrophic member of the phylum Acidobacteria, is already featured in textbooks.
Finally, his recent demonstration that cyanobacteria have a complete tricarboxylic acid cycle decisively overturned the belief, accepted for ~50 years, that the cyanobacterial TCA cycle is branched [Science 334:1551-1553 (2011)] and provides new opportunities for metabolic engineering.
Robert Blankenship was born and grew up in southeast Nebraska, USA. He has a BS in Chemistry from Nebraska Wesleyan University, a PhD in Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle. He was a faculty member at Amherst College and then spent 21 years at Arizona State University. From 2002 until 2006 he was Chair of the ASU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In 2006 he moved to Washington University in St. Louis, where he is the Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in the Departments of Biology and Chemistry. In 2009 he became the Founding Director of the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC), a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center. He has mentored thirty PhD students, thirteen MS students, thirty three postdoctoral fellows and hundreds of undergraduate students. He has published over 400 papers and has been awarded numerous honors and prizes.
Dr. Blankenship has spent his entire scientific career of more than 40 years researching the highly interdisciplinary subject of photosynthesis. This research has used a wide range of techniques including ultrafast optical spectroscopy, magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry as well as biochemistry, genomics and molecular evolutionary analysis. His research investigates energy transfer and electron transfer processes in photosynthetic antenna and reaction center complexes. One of the hallmarks of his research program is that it emphasizes studying the mechanism of energy storage in the complete range of known organisms that do photosynthesis, with the goal of discovering the essential aspects of how light energy is stored. One of his longstanding interests is unraveling the origin and early evolution of photosynthesis. Recent work focuses on how the efficiency of the photosynthetic process might be improved to help meet the energy and food needs of the world’s population.