Bill Rutherford explores the structure and function of photosynthetic reaction centres — the biological machinery that converts solar energy into the chemical energy that powers life. Bill’s major interest is photosystem II (PSII), the enzyme in plants that splits water to provide electrons for carbon fixation. Oxygen, the side-product of water oxidation, accumulated in the atmosphere and changed the world.
Using biophysical methods, he was one of the first to recognise the similarity between PSII and simpler reaction centres that are incapable of water oxidation. He subsequently worked to reveal the distinctive features of PSII, making comparisons with other reaction centres and providing influential models of structure, mechanism and evolution.
Bill’s research is relevant to the current urgent need for non-fossil energy sources. Water-splitting catalysts are required for making fuels from solar energy. These efforts at mimicking the reactions of photosynthesis often use the active site of PSII as a benchmark and blueprint. Bill’s work on energy flows in photosynthesis is particularly relevant to efforts to improve its efficiency for more sustainable food production.
Chair in Biochemistry of Solar Energy, Department of Life Sciences (South Kensington), Imperial College London
Interests and expertise