Robert Burnap gained international acclaim for his research on the release of oxygen in oxygenic photosynthesis by plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. Such organisms use sunlight to combine water and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air into organic compounds that serve cells as food. A further product of oxygenic photosynthesis is the oxygen (O2) found in the Earth’s atmosphere. Today, researchers are attempting to use the photosynthesis process as a blueprint for generating alternative, nonfossil fuels such as hydrogen.
In Berlin, Burnap – a microbiologist and molecular geneticist – conducts empirical research in the Collaborative Research Center “Protonation Dynamics in Protein Function” on the role of manganese oxide in the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis some three billion years ago. This metal compound is bound within the cell to a special protein complex where water is split into electrons, protons (hydrogen nuclei), and oxygen. Robert Burnap uses model organisms to investigate among other things the role of manganese oxide as a catalyst in the development of photosynthesis. Findings from his research support the CO2-neutral production of nonfossil fuels through artificial photosynthesis.
Text: FU Berlin
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