5. March 2019

Tom Oliver

Photoprotection in crop species and iridescent plants

University of Bristol / Bristol, United Kingdom


Highly ordered grana thylakoids inside chloroplasts act like natural photonic crystals, and give rise to the observed iridescence of leaves for many plant species. These cells are termed iridoplasts, and in Begoniathe ordered structure enhances iridoplasts’ solar light harvesting efficiency cf.chloroplasts. My group has studied iridescence in Phyllagathis rotundifolia, a shade dwelling iridescent plant, using reflectance microscopy. These experiments revealed the wavelength of light reflected by the iridoplasts changes on seconds-to-minutes timescales upon exposure to blue light via altered spacings between adjacent grana. Remarkably these dynamical changes are reversible upon re-adaptation to low-light/dark conditions. We hypothesise that these dynamics form a photoprotective response, allowing iridoplasts to rapidly modulate their solar light harvesting efficiency.

Using time correlated single photon counting, we have shown that the non-photochemical quenching dynamics (NPQ) of plant crop species differ to those of heavily studied model organisms.We are currently extending these studies to investigate how NPQ varies for different plant cellular tissues.


Tom Oliver is from Leicestershire, UK. He performed PhD studies at the University of Bristol under the supervision of Prof. Mike Ashfold FRS between 2007-2011. He was then a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of California Berkeley with Prof Graham Fleming FRS, where he pioneered the two-dimensional electronic-vibrational spectroscopy technique, one of the premier tools for investigating ultrafast condensed phase dynamics of molecules, proteins and nanomaterials. In 2015, Tom returned to the UK as a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Bristol and was appointed as a proleptic lecturer in 2018. In the summer of 2019, he was promoted to position of Associate Professor (Reader). His research group uses ultrafast laser spectroscopies to investigate the coherent dynamics of proteins, the influence of spatial morphology on charge transfer, and photoprotection and repair in DNA and plants.