Christopher Somerville was one of the first to advocate the importance of Arabidopsis for molecular genetic studies. His research has mainly concerned the use of molecular genetics to characterise biochemical processes in plants. He made fundamental contributions to understanding the pathway of photorespiration and the regulation of photosynthetic carbon dioxide fixation. He characterised key enzymes in fatty acid modification and, through mechanistic studies, discovered the structural basis of most fatty acid chemical diversity in plants.
He pioneered the use of genetics to dissect the synthesis and function of both lignin and cellulose. He co-founded a worldwide consortium, the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative, which produced the first sequence of a higher plant genome and established The Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR), one of the most extensively used biological databases in the world. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Canada, and has received numerous scientific awards, including the Presidential Green Chemistry Award, and the 2006 Balzan Prize for Plant Molecular Genetics, which he shared with Elliot Meyerowitz of Caltech.
Emeritus, Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy, University of California, Berkeley