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Richard Dorrell

CNRS 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
Functional 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 algal lineages, many of which have arisen through secondary and tertiary endosymbiosis.

I investigate the events that surround the origins and diversification of secondary chloroplast lineages, focussing on the nucleus-encoded and chloroplast-targeted proteins present in different algal groups. Previously, I have shown in collaboration with others that the secondarily acquired chloroplasts of some of the most successful algal groups, including diatoms, dinoflagellates and haptophytes, are evolutionary mosaics; supported by a range of nucleus-encoded proteins of different evolutionary origins. I have also worked on understanding how the acquisitions and losses of chloroplast-targeted proteins may underpin changes in algal life strategy, for example the transition of photosynthesis to heterotrophy; and in adaptations to extreme environments, such as the Arctic Ocean.

My CNRS Momentum Fellowship, awarded from 2019 to 2021, aims to explore which chloroplast metabolic pathways contribute most substantially to primary production in oceanic communities. We hope to understand more clearly which proteins define the success of algae with secondary chloroplasts in the contemporary ocean; and to identify novel chloroplast proteins that may be used to engineer improved photosynthesis in crop species. I am extremely happy to talk to prospective students interested in either subject.

Awards and Grants
• 2018 Momentum Fellowship, CNRS
• 2015 Early career fellowship, EMBO
• 2014 Research in Paris post-doctoral exchange fellowship, Mairie de Paris
• 2014 HE Woodman prize, University of Cambridge
• 2013 Manton Prize, British Phycological Society

Students Supervised
• Tomomi Nonoyama (PhD student; Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, 2017-2018)
• Giselle McCallum, Fuhai Liu (Masters students ; ENS/CRI, 2016-2019)
• 8 undergraduate project students (Univ. Cambridge ; ENS ; Sup’BioTech Paris ; Pierres Gilles de Gènes- ENCBP)

Teaching and Other Responsibilities
• Lecturer, University of Cambridge (2013-2018); École Normale Supérieure (2015-present)
• Associate Editor; European Journal of Phycology (2017-present); Frontiers in Plant Science- Marine and Freshwater Plants (2019-present)
• Post-Doctoral Representative; Conseil d’Institut and IBENS Gender Parity Committee (2018-present)

Selected Publications

• Metabolic innovations underpinning the origin and diversification of the diatom chloroplast. Nonoyama, T., Kazamia, E., Nawaly, H., Gao, X., Tsuji, Y., Matsuda, Y., Bowler, C., Tanaka, T., Dorrell, R.G., Biomolecules (2019) 9: 322.

• Principles of plastid reductive evolution illuminated by nonphotosynthetic chrysophytes, Dorrell, R.G., Azuma, T., Nomura, M., Audren de Kerdrel, G., Paoli, L., Yang, S. Bowler, C., Ishii, K-I., Miyashita, H., Gile, G.H., Kamikawa, R., PNAS (2019) 116: 6914-6923

• 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

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

• 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.