Marinus Pilon Emeritus Professor


Phone: (970) 495-4390


  • Ph.D., Utrecht University, The Netherlands


The research in my group focuses on processes by which plants regulate the incorporation of Fe and Cu ions into proteins that are involved in photosynthesis in plant chloroplasts. Metal ions are essential to all living organisms; for instance respiratory and photosynthetic electron transfer chains depend on metal cofactors. Despite being essential, these metal ions can also be toxic when present in excess, and all organisms need to regulate the uptake and distribution of these elements. This homeostatic control is especially complex in plants. Plants must do with the ions present in the soil; different distributions of metal ions are needed during the vegetative growth phase and seed development, the presence of plastids gives plants a more complex sub-cellular organization compared to other eukaryotes. To study the machinery involved in metal cofactor homeostasis in plant chloroplasts, we are analyzing Arabidopsis thaliana genes that encode plastid-localized homologues of prokaryotic or algal proteins involved in metal homeostasis. We use both a genetic approach (point mutants and knock-out mutants, over-expression, and antisensing), and a biochemical approach (experiments with isolated proteins and chloroplasts, immuno-localization experiments) to elucidate the mechanisms involved. The photosynthetic activity of chloroplasts is pivotal to plant dry mass production. Furthermore, an important determinant of the nutritional value of plants is their metal content, particularly the iron content of edible parts. Thus, a better understanding of metal ion homeostasis may benefit crop productivity, human nutrition, renewable biofuel production and possibly environmental cleanup using plants.