Williams College biologist explores photosynthetic apparatus

January 24, 2007

The National Science Foundation has announced the award of $263,274 to Williams College biologist Claire Ting. It will support her work in exploring the structure, function and evolution of the photosynthetic apparatus in one of the most important marine primary producers of the world.

Her project is titled "Photosynthetic Response to Abiotic Stress in Prochlorococcus, a Globally Important Marine Cyanobacterium." It addresses the remarkable differences in genomes of several Prochlorococcus strains and the implications of these differences for photosynthesis and acclimation to environmental stress.

"These differences have evolved in response to selection pressures in the ocean environment," she explained. "The Prochlorococcus MED4 strain, for instance, has been found to be missing several genes encoding proteins associated with the biological apparatus crucial to photosynthesis and proteins that are critical in the acclimation response to specific environmental stresses."

Ting's goal is to determine how genomic differences become advantages in the capacity for photosynthesis of cyanobacteria under certain environmental conditions. She will also examine the molecular responses and mechanisms triggered by changes in environmental factors, such as light and temperature. It is critical in the context of potential global climate changes to understand the effects of temperature on the photosynthetic capabilities of this ecologically important marine cyanobacterium.

She hopes that the project will lead to a marked improvement in the ability to accurately model primary production in ocean ecosystems, as well as to a better understanding of the mechanics and evolution of photosynthesis.

The project will involve a number of undergraduate students in scientific research. Students participating in this project will become familiar with state-of-the-art technology used in this field of study and have a chance to participate in national scientific meetings.

Recently the Woodrow Wilson Foundation also has recognized Ting. She was awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty for 2006-07 for her effectiveness as a college teacher and for her scholarship. Her teaching was previously honored, twice by the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award by Cornell University.

Ting has won a number of grants for research in biosciences related to the environment, including an NSF-NATO postdoctoral research fellowship in science and engineering at the Institute of Biological Physical Chemistry in Paris, France. Her research has been published in journals including Plant Physiology, Microbiology, and Genome Research.

She graduated from Yale University and received her Ph.D. in plant physiology, biochemistry and microbiology from Cornell. Following postdoctoral work at MIT, she joined the faculty at Williams College, where she has been teaching and conducting research since 2003.
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Williams College is consistently ranked one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges. The college's 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in this research. Students' educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student's financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted. Founded in 1793, it is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college is located in Williamstown, Mass. To visit the college on the Internet: www.williams.edu

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