Lorentz Center - Hacking the Biological Clock: Circadian Rhythm and Photosynthesis from 10 Apr 2012 through 13 Apr 2012
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    Hacking the Biological Clock: Circadian Rhythm and Photosynthesis
    from 10 Apr 2012 through 13 Apr 2012

Equation of motion

This workshop brought scientists studying the biological clock and photosynthesis, together to discuss and accumulate knowledge on the control of the circadian clock in photosynthesis in plants, algae and microorganism. Goal of the workshop was to combine biological, physical and biochemical expertise and to generate alternative strategies to ‘hack the biological clock’ to improve plant productivity and crop yield. The purpose of the workshop went beyond circadian rhythm and photosynthesis, and explicitly focused on working on possible solutions, for food and energy, that can be forged based on the knowledge of the biological clock.  


About 58 scientists attended the workshop. Participants and speakers were both experts in the field as well as young scientists. There were 21 invited talks and about 6 poster presentations. The scientific program was divided into three work packages focusing on major issues related to the biological clock and its coordination with photosynthesis yield. The workshop was connected to the national “Biosolar Cell programme” and with the Leiden University “Honours programme”. The workshop organization was similar to Gordon conferences where a long lunch break allowed for specific discussions in small groups. In addition, two times three parallel in-depth discussion sessions were organized in the afternoon which discussed on specific topic belongs to three work packages. A vision and most promising routs of how the biological clock can be hacked for improved photosynthesis in plants and microorganisms was articulated. This vision was expressed in the form of short scientific notes that were distributed to all participants during the conference and was debated through an open discussion platform.


The workshop was a great success. Several new contacts and collaborations have been established and both the photosynthesis and biological clock communities significantly benefited from the workshop and found common interests and are looking forward for future joint meetings. A white paper is under preparation for summarizing the outcome of this meeting which would serve as a basis for establishing consortia for future funding.



1. A concise version of the description and aims of the workshop, including what were the most important scientific questions motivating the workshop.

The biological clock, which provides information to the organism about the time of day (or night) is crucial for plant productivity by regulating the various processes that control photosynthesis and regulate the metabolism. However, the regulating mechanisms underlying how the biological clock controls photosynthesis is not understood. Such understanding has the potential of providing a handle on how to enhance plant productivity. Till now scientists studying photosynthesis and the biological clock, respectively, formed separate communities. The Lorentz workshop “Hacking the Biological Clock” has now for the first time brought the two communities together with the aim to benefit from each other’s knowledge and to develop ideas how the biological clock could be hacked for improved photosynthesis in plants and photosynthetic microorganisms.


2. Is a tangible outcome of the workshop expected? If so, please mention – even if it is, as yet, at the level of intention.

The workshop triggered lively discussions, both in the plenary sessions and in the parallel in-depth discussion sessions, and stimulated new collaborations. The fundamental functioning of the clock and ways of making use of the clock to increase photosynthetic yields were discussed. The workshop also included discussing how to exploit engineering approaches, either unbiased, over the entire transcriptome/genome or targeted, for tuning the coordination of the internal clock. An extensive outline of what was concluded in the various parallel in-depth discussion sessions was prepared and it was decided to write a review (white paper) about the workshop for an international scientific journal.


3. Where there any developments which could, already, be termed a (beginning) scientific breakthrough? If yes, please tell about it shortly.

It was mentioned by prof Kay that field trials are underway to evaluate the productivity of a first crop with a mutation in a clock gene.


4. Did you, or to your knowledge any of the participants, experience notable “Aha” moments (for instance, separate scientific communities realizing that they have significantly more in common than they had thought)?

Most of the participants realized that the exchange between scientists of the photosynthesis and biological clock communities and different approaches is very valuable since many research problems and ultimate targets are common.  Many participants did not realize before the workshop how profound the control of the clock is on the functioning of plants.



5. How did you experience the format of the workshop (the structure of the program, lectures vs discussion time etc.)? Did you try something new (different kind of discussions for instance)? If so, how did it work out? Would you do it again or advise it to others?

The advice of the Lorentz Center was very helpful. In particular we were suggested to give more room for free discussions and for involvement of younger scientists. Both worked out very nicely.


6. Other comments, suggestions and/or criticism for the Lorentz Center, the scientific advisory boards and/or future organizers.

We are very thankful to the staff of the Lorentz Center for their expert handing of all administrative matters. The workshop was a joy to organise with such cheerfully reliable support. The meeting would not have been possible without the Center’s generous financial support for which we are also most grateful.



A Alia (Leiden, Netherlands) 

R.J. Bino (Wageningen, Netherlands)

W. Gruissem (Zurich,  Switzerland)

P. J.J. Hooykaas (Leiden, Netherlands)