Colin Osborne - 25 Oct 2017

"C4 photosynthesis: from leaf evolution to global ecology"

October 25, 2017



C4 plants use a carbon-concentrating mechanism to improve photosynthetic efficiency compared with the ancestral C3 type in hot, low CO2 environments. The evolution of this photosynthetic physiology has been widely credited for the ecological success of grasses in dominating tropical savannas. This talk will examine how the evolution of C4 photosynthesis overcame environmental limitations, how a greater efficiency of photosynthesis changed the biology of the whole plant, and how the resulting changes in plant-environment interactions transformed ecosystems. The work establishes general principles by comparing large numbers of plant species, uncovers mechanisms responsible for C4 plant success, and demonstrates the importance of evolutionary history in understanding global ecology today.


Colin is Professor of Plant Biology, and Associate Director at the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield, a new initiative which aims to build a global community of sustainability leaders through its PhD programme, and to help connect sustainability research at the university with ongoing policy debates. Colin has been in Sheffield for twenty years, as postdoc, Royal Society University Research Fellow, and latterly an academic. Before that, he obtained a PhD in plant environmental physiology from the University of Essex, and a BSc in Plant Sciences from the University of Manchester. His research investigates how physiological diversity in wild plants arises from evolutionary and ecological processes, and how physiological mechanisms underpin these species differences. Recent research has investigated the evolution of C4 photosynthesis in tropical environments and the domestication of wheat in the Fertile Crescent. This work reveals the importance of taking a whole organism perspective on physiological processes.