Headshot of Helen





Modeling Photosynthesis

I am interested in understanding how plants adjust physiologically to environmental changes. I developed a theory of physiological acclimation to environmental change for plants that use the C4 photosynthetic pathway. Check out the results of my model here. examine the mechanisms underlying these responses from the leaf to the whole plant.

Microbial Biogeochemistry

My goal is to understand the ecology and evolution of ocean microbes and how they influence global biogeochemical cycles. I focus on the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, which is the smallest and most abundant microbe in ocean ecosystems — sometimes accounting for half the total photosynthetic biomass. I use this model system to study life across all scales — from the genome to the ecosystem.

Of all microbial biogeochemistry, to study, I found marine microbes the most fascinating because of the enormous effect they have on the ocean, and the dependency of all life on biodiversity in the oceans.
“How inappropriate to call it Earth when it is clearly Ocean”-AC Clarke

Synthetic Ecology

Synthetic biology is at a stage similar to that of computer science in the 1950’s: The foundational pieces are starting to emerge, in the form of standardized DNA parts, packaged for combinatoric assembly using standards such as BioBricks. However, creating new DNA parts is tedious and time-consuming, and constructing systems from sets of DNA parts is an ad hoc, manual process that limits the size, complexity, and capability of the resulting systems. The time is right for automation of biological design.