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Photosynth Res. 2001;67(3):157-76.

Travels in a world of small science.

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Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, P.O. Box 1106, New Haven, CT, 06504, USA.


As a boy, I read Sinclair Lewis's Arrowsmithand dreamed of doing research of potential benefit to society. I describe the paths of my scientific career that followed. Several distinguished scientists served as my mentors and I present their profiles. Much of my career was in a small department at a small institution where independent researchers collaborated informally. I describe the unique method of carrying on research there. My curiosity about glycolate metabolism led to unraveling the enzymatic mechanism of the glycolate oxidase reaction and showing the importance of H(2)O(2) as a byproduct. I discovered enzymes catalyzing the reduction of glyoxylate and hydroxypyruvate. I found alpha-hydroxysulfonates were useful competitive inhibitors of glycolate oxidase. In a moment of revelation, I realized that glycolate metabolism was an essential part of photorespiration, a process that lowers net photosynthesis in C(3) plants. I added inhibitors of glycolate oxidase to leaves and showed: (1) glycolate was synthesized only in light as an early product of photosynthetic CO(2) assimilation, (2) the rate of glycolate oxidation consumed a sizable fraction of net photosynthesis in C(3) but not in C(4) plants, and (3) that glycolate metabolism increased greatly at higher temperatures. For a while I studied the control of stomatal opening in leaves, and this led to the finding that potassium ions are a key solute in guard cells. I describe experiments that show that when photorespiration rates are high, as occurs at higher temperatures, genetically increasing leaf catalase activity reduces photorespiration and increases net photosythetic CO(2) assimilation.


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