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Richard Dorrell

Post-doctoral researcher

Contact details
Institut de Biologie de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure (IBENS)
46 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris, France
Phone : (33 (0) 144 32 35 28
Fax : (33) (0) 144 32 39 35
E-mail: dorrell at
BA (First Class Hons) Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge 2010
PhD Biochemistry, University of Cambridge 2014

Research interests
Evolution of chloroplasts in photosynthetic microalgae
The most dramatic evolutionary transition across the tree of eukaryotic life, in terms of its consequences for cell biology and for the ecology of the planet, is the transition from being a non-photosynthetic protist to a photosynthetic alga or plant, via the endosymbiotic acquisition of chloroplasts. This process has happened multiple times across the tree of life, creating an extraordinary diversity of ecologically fundamental lineages, including diatoms.

I investigate the events that surround the origins of different chloroplast lineages, and also some of the transitions that have occurred in specific chloroplast groups during the diversification of modern algae. Recently, in collaboration with researchers at other universities, we have published a study reconstructing the very first proteins that functioned in the chloroplasts of stramenopiles, the lineage including diatoms, and show that this chloroplast from its inception has been an evolutionary mosaic, using proteins and pathways that come not only from the red algal ancestors of the endosymbiont, but also green algae, bacteria, and the host cell itself. We also demonstrated a possible serial endosymbiotic origin for the chloroplasts of another major group of photosynthetic algae, the haptophytes, which possess chloroplast proteins of stramenopile origin, but a chloroplast genome of another evolutionary derivation.

I am currently focusing on some of the chloroplast metabolic pathways that are associated with individual stramenopile groups, e.g. pathways that differentiate diatoms from less ecologically successful relatives. In particular, we are investigating the biochemistry and evolution of chloroplast-mitochondria interactions, which are highly intricate in diatom species. For this work, we principally focus on the model diatom species Phaeodactylum, but also work on other unusual and interesting organisms from across the stramenopile lineage.

In my spare time, I have a couple of side projects concerning the highly unusual chloroplast evolution events that have occurred in another group of algae, the dinoflagellates. Recently, we have published a phylogenetic reconstruction of sequence evolution in dinoflagellate chloroplasts, demonstrating that photosystem I may have been a key driver in the divergent history of this group. I additionally deliver lectures for the third year undergraduate Plant Sciences course at Cambridge University, and for the L3/M1 Insights in Life Sciences course in IBENS, exploring algal and chloroplast diversity, and am happy to talk to prospective students about research in eukaryotic evolution.

Awards and Grants
2009/ 2010 Gatsby undergraduate scholarship, Sainsbury Foundation
2009 Frank Smart Prize, 2010 TB Woods and Sylvia Haslam Prizes, University of Cambridge
2013 Small project grant, British Phycological Society
2013 Manton Prize, British Phycological Society
2014 HE Woodman prize, University of Cambridge
2014 Research in Paris post-doctoral exchange fellowship, Mairie de Paris
2015 Early career fellowship, EMBO

Students Supervised
• James Drew, Elisabeth Richardson, George Hinksman (undergraduate students; Univ. Cambridge, 2012-2013)
• Lucas Paoli, Guillemette Audren de Kerdrel (L3 students; ENS, 2015-2016)
• Giselle McCallum (M1 student ; ENS/CRI, 2016)

Selected Publications

• Functional remodelling of RNA processing in replacement chloroplasts by pathways retained from their predecessors. Dorrell, R.G, Howe, C. J. (2012) PNAS , 109(46): 18879-18884.

• Evolution of chloroplast transcript processing in Plasmodium and its chromerid algal relatives, Dorrell, R.G., Drew, J., Nisbet, R.E.R., Howe, C.J., (2014) PLoS Genet , 10: 1004008.

• Genome-wide transcript profiling reveals the coevolution of plastid genome sequences and transcript processing pathways in the fucoxanthin dinoflagellate Karlodinium veneficum, Richardson, E.*, Dorrell, R.G.*, Howe, C.J. (2014) MBE , 31: 2376-2386.

• Integration of plastids with their hosts: lessons learned from dinoflagellates, Dorrell, R.G., Howe, C.J., PNAS (2015) 112: 10247-10254.

• Progressive and biased divergent evolution underpins the origin and diversification of peridinin dinoflagellate plastids, Dorrell, R.G., Klinger, C.M., Newby, R.J., Richardson, E., Butterfield, E.R., Dacks, J.B., Howe, C.J., Nisbet, R.E.R., Bowler, C., MBE (2017) 34: 361-379.

• Chimeric origins of ochrophyte and haptophyte plastids revealed through an ancient plastid proteome, Dorrell, R.G., Gile, G.H., Méheust, R., Bapteste, E.P., McCallum, G., Klinger, C.M., Brillet-Gueguén, L., Freeman, K., Richter, D.J., Bowler, C., ELife (2017) 6: 23717