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Photosynthesis research and commercial future

March 19, 2010

The term photosynthesis was first recorded use: 1898, or now in December 2009  111 years ago (WolframAlpha).

A website by Govindjee ( shows a nice list of Nobel laureates whose work was related to photosynthesis:

  • Paul D. Boyer and John E. Walker (1997, Chemistry): Elucidation of enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
  • Rudolph Marcus (1992, Chemistry): Electron transfer theory: included application to photosynthesis. [He was at UIUC, Urbana; had attended my course in “Bioenergetics in Photosynthesis”; is currently at Cal Tech in Pasadena, CA.]
  • Hartmut Michel; Robert Huber; and Johannes Deisenhofer (1988, Chemistry): X-ray structure of bacterial reaction center. [Michel has visited Urbana several times and I have had many conversations with him before and after his prize; I have casually met Deisenhofer, but never Huber. The work was done at Munich, Germany.]
  • Peter Mitchell (1978, Chemistry check): Oxidative and photosynthetic phosphorylation: chemi-osmotic theory.[The work was done in England, UK]
  • Robert Burns Woodward (1965, Chemistry): Total synthesis of chlorophyll, vitamin B12, and other natural products.[He was at Harvard University]
  • Melvin Calvin (1961, Chemistry): Carbon-di oxide assimilation in photosynthesis.[The work was done at Berkeley; Professor Calvin is known to me as he has visited UIUC, and, he is one of the two professors I had applied to do PhD with; the person who discovered 14C (Martin Kamen),that was crucial for Calvin’s experiments, is known to me personally.]
  • Richard Kuhn (1938, Chemistry): carotenoids; vitamins [Germany]
  • Paul Karrer (1937, Chemistry): Carotenoid structure; flavins; vitamin B2[Germany]
  • Hans Fischer (1930, Chemistry): Chlorophyll chemistry; hemin synthesis[Germany]
  • Richard Martin Wilstatter (1915, Chemistry): Chlorophyll purification and structure, carotenoids, etc.[Germany]

The list above may help understanding that the idea to produce phytoplankton biomass, as a starting point for a plethora of products, is founded on solid science.

Starting as early as the beginning of the previous century, individual visionaries who were familiar with the basic growth characteristics of phytoplankton as well as with their biochemical composition, have voiced that this special ‘crop’ may be an excellent candidate for the production of many products in the area of feed, with a sustainable character.

But despite various cycles of initial enthusiasm for the potential of phytoplankton production systems, the topic never really left the laboratory. Even today, applications that yield a few hundred kilo’s of high quality dry phytoplankton biomass can be counted on a hand.

What had  been missing in the past (and still is?), is a proper business vision and a technology that uses the available know-how, which,  is shaped by the tough reality of economics.

Agriculture as we know it did not arrive at being a global activity in 10 years. Yet, industrial phytoplankton systems must achieve such development on a time scale of a decade, at maximum.

This is possible, without any doubt.  But it’ll require a well-chosen and talented team of specialists of many different disciplines (biotechnologists, various types of engineers, feed/food technologists, chemists, educators, economists); as well as contacts with a diversity of societal organizations.

And most of all, it will require the support of a measurable number of  individual global citizens, who, at the end, will decide theworld’s  face of tomorrow.

Let the future show who will be able to recognize this requirement, and who will act accordingly.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2010 2:56 AM

    Genuinely definitely very good website article which has got me considering. I never looked at this from your point of view.

  2. Bernd Kroon permalink
    October 23, 2010 10:42 AM

    Thanks! This blog will surely continue!

  3. Shaunsphillips permalink
    October 17, 2010 7:27 AM

    Top blog, I hadn’t come across before during my searches!
    Carry on the excellent work!


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