Free and open to the public.
Abstract: Life has played a key role in shaping global geochemical processes over billions of years. However, studying the role of biological systems across geological timescales has proven to be a major challenge, as our understanding of early life has primarily been limited to observational studies through the fossil and geological records. The most distinct environmental change in Earth’s history was the rise of oxygen ~2.3 billion years ago and was in fact precipitated by a biochemical innovation – the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis. My research focuses on reconstructing the biochemical transitions that have enabled the evolution of photosynthesis. Here, I will discuss my efforts to provide a timeline for the early evolution of life and its impact on Earth through the carbon and oxygen cycles. I will also discuss my work combining evolutionary and synthetic biology approaches to experimentally study and test hypotheses concerning the origins of fundamental metabolisms, which may provide the evolutionary insight needed to engineer photosynthesis.