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Grant enables ECU biologist to study photosynthesis protein

GREENVILLE, NC   (Oct. 24, 2005)   —   A grant from the National Science Foundation has enabled an East Carolina University biologist to explore photosynthesis on the molecular level.

The three-year grant, totaling nearly $280,000, allows Cindy Putnam-Evans to continue to investigate how a protein found in plants reacts and splits water molecules during photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, the process a plant uses to create energy from sunlight, Putnam-Evans said, releases oxygen into the atmosphere.

“This reaction is very important because it is virtually the only source of molecular oxygen in the biosphere and almost all life depends upon this oxygen source for survival,” Putnam-Evans said.

The protein, called CP43, could play a key role in the production of oxygen during photosynthesis. Putnam-Evans, who has studied this protein with NSF funding since 1994, is altering the gene encoding CP43 in blue-green algae in an attempt to define precisely the role of the protein during this process. She selects an amino acid from the protein, replaces it with a different amino acid, and then introduces the mutant DNA into the algae to track the photosynthesis process. Pinpointing how the altered protein affects the photosynthesis function could provide clues for the role this protein plays.

“Based on the work we’ve done in the past, and based on structural data, we think this protein may be involved directly in the catalytic mechanism,” she said.

Understanding the role of this protein, said Putnam-Evans, could prove useful for agricultural applications, as well as for possible synthetic oxygen production.

The grant, entitled “Role of CP43 in Protein/Protein and Protein/Cofactor Interactions in Photosystem II,” provides stipends for two graduate and two undergraduate research assistants, who help Putnam-Evans conduct and track her research.

Putnam-Evans, who has been a faculty member at ECU since 1993, grew up in Boiling Springs, N.C.



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