Dr. Wim Vermaas' research program focuses on the molecular biology and cell physiology of prokaryotic photosynthetic systems, utilizing functional genomics and cutting-edge technologies and approaches. His research team consists of a balanced mix of graduate students, postdoctoral associates, staff, and undergraduate students utilizing a cyanobacterium, Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 (Synechocystis for short), in basic and applied research efforts. Cyanobacteria are a group of very versatile and ancient organisms that can grow under a large range of conditions and that have many ways to make a living. Synechocystis is particularly appealing because its photosynthetic system is essentially identical to that of plants; moreover – in contrast to most “real” plants – it is a molecular biologist's dream for several reasons: 1) its genome (some 3.6 million base pairs) has been sequenced in its entirety, 2) it is spontaneously transformable (i.e., it takes up DNA by itself), 3) it can integrate DNA into its genome by homologous recombination, and 4) it can grow in the absence of photosynthesis if it needs to.
The Vermaas team is currently involved in a transformative research effort to develop strains of Synechocystis that can produce and secrete products for use as renewable raw materials for the biofuels and bioplastics industries. The organisms essentially become biocatalysts (mini-factories), producing and secreting feedstocks for harvest without themselves being consumed, much like a cow giving milk. This revolutionary new technology is being funded by a grant from a branch of the US Department of Energy, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
Possibilities for research projects with the Synechocystis system are almost unlimited. Other examples of research activities in the Vermaas lab include: 1) studying the interaction between chlorophyll synthesis and assembly of chlorophyll-binding complexes, 2) finding “new” genes that affect and regulate photosynthesis and respiration or that are involved in biosynthesis of unique carotenoids, 3) elucidating unusual aspects of the “metabolome” of this cyanobacterium, 4) determining how thylakoid membranes are synthesized, and 5) developing new molecular-biological tools to study protein structure and function. The ultimate goal of all these various research activities is to use the insights to better understand the molecular physiology of the cyanobacterial cell. This research has many potential implications, ranging from metabolic engineering opportunities to new evolutionary insights. It is an exciting field of research, providing students with excellent interdisciplinary training opportunities in the molecular life sciences.
Dr. Vermaas came to Arizona State University in 1986 after working on various aspects of plant cell and molecular biology at the University of Illinois, Michigan State University, the Technical University in Berlin, Germany, the Agricultural University in Wageningen, The Netherlands, and the Du Pont Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. At ASU, Dr Vermaas also coordinated the U.S. Department of Energy supported Genomes-to-Life Project on the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 and has served as director of ASU's Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis.
In addition to his research studies, Dr. Vermaas has also been involved with the National Science Foundation (NSF) supported Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program in Biomolecular Nanotechnology, and was Director of the related NSF-supported Graduate Research Training Program in the molecular plant sciences. He was recognized for his educational and research contributions in 2010, when he was chosen as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a prestigious international scientific society and also recognized as one of ten outstanding ASU faculty members for cutting-edge research, creative activities and excellence in classroom performance.
|Prof. Wim Vermaas
School of Life Sciences and
Center for Bioenergy & Photosynthesis
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-4501 USA
Tel: (480) 965-6250
Office Room Number: LS E-549
School of Life Sciences
Center for Bioenergy & Photosynthesis
Synechocystis Project at ASU
Arizona State University, Box 871604, Room ISTB-5 101, Tempe, AZ 85287-1604
phone: (480) 965-1963, fax: (480) 965-5927