Higher plants and algae absorb light through a large number of different pigments that are bound to protein complexes. Professor Claudia Büchel conducts research on the biochemical and biophysical processes involved in the light reactions of photosynthesis in different plant organisms. Her work focuses on the analysis of diatoms, which are found in saltwater and freshwater as well as in the soil. Diatoms are responsible for approximately one fourth of the biomass production worldwide and represent one of the major carbon sinks in the oceans. In her research, Büchel investigates why diatoms – which are so successful at adapting to light conditions that they prevail over other classes of algae – are so enormously productive. Diatoms absorb light predominantly via one class of photosynthetic pigments, the carotenoids. The different carotenoid species are bound to so-called light-harvesting proteins. The cells continuously measure the constantly changing light flux, which is the result of, for example, maritime tides. In only a few minutes, the light-harvesting proteins are able to switch efficiently from the process of light-harvesting to that of protecting the cell against high light intensities. Thus, if light irradiation reaches levels that are harmful to the cell, solar energy is transformed into heat. To date, the mechanisms underlying this regulation have received little scientific attention in algae. Büchel analyses them by means of biochemical, molecular biological and spectroscopic methods, which are used, for example, to examine the strict spatial arrangement and interaction of the different carotenoid molecules. She elucidates the structure of light harvesting proteins by means of electron microscopy, which allows visualisation of protein complexes. Genetic analyses of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) of diatoms and the transformations that they undergo are used to clarify which proteins are involved in the protection of cells, and how their synthesis is controlled. Büchel's research is integrated in projects of the European Union and the German Research Foundation (DFG). "I am fascinated by the elucidation of various photosynthetic mechanisms. Contrasting the different solutions to the same physiological problem reflects how great the diversity of plants is", says Büchel describing her field of research. She is highly interested in involving students in her research-centered teaching.
After studying biology in Mainz, Claudia Büchel completed her doctorate on photosynthesis in algae. She subsequently went to Hungary as a visiting scientist, followed by a period of four years at Imperial College in London, where she used electron microscopy to elucidate the structure of photosynthetic proteins. During this period, she received her Habilitation from the University of Mainz in 1999. Having received a Heisenberg Fellowship from the German Research Foundation (DFG), Büchel worked at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt from 2001 to 2004. She was appointed professor in the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the Goethe University Frankfurt in 2004. Since then, she has taken on a number of positions there, for example as dean of studies, vice dean, as well as deputy ombudswoman dealing with cases of scientific misconduct.
Prof. Dr. Claudia Büchel
Institute of Molecular Biological Sciences
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 29602