Chloroplast metabolism (WP1.1)

Chloroplasts are the plant cell organelles containing chlorophyll. By means of photosynthesis chloroplasts assimilate carbon dioxide to produce the essential building blocks (sugar, starch, amino acids, fatty acids etc.) for plant development and reproduction.

To maintain energy levels throughout the day, the balance between starch production and degradation is carefully regulated. The researchers in WP1.1 are discovering the specific genes required in the process. These genes are not only essential for plant survival but for humanity because starch constitutes one of the main nutrients in food.

In another aspect of these studies researchers discover how plant manage light changes. A large suite of genes are activated by light. The products of these genes may act on the positioning of chloroplasts but also on the orientation of the plant towards the light. In addition, plants are capable of producing a range of small molecules (metabolites) to protect the plant from possible damage by excess light.

Furthermore, chloroplasts have exceptional potential for the biosynthesis of pharmaceutical molecules, such as insulin for treating diabetes or experimental vaccines against AIDS. These applications have collectively been termed molecular farming. Finally, chloroplasts can be used to harvest organic Vitamin E and K, which are best known for their antioxidant properties in cosmetics and food products.




senior scientists


  • S. Mukherjee (Geneva)
  • T. Preuten (Lausanne)

Ph.D students

  • B. Christ (Zurich)
  • M. Martin (Neuchâtel)
  • S. Soyk (ETHZ)
  • V. Shanmugabalaji (Neuchâtel)