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Key Profile Area: Plant Sciences

Prof. Helmut Kirchhoff

Member of the Global Faculty

Helmut Kirchhoff obtained his PhD in Biology from the Westfälische Wilhelms University in Münster for his research on structure-function relationships in photosynthetic thylakoid membranes in plants. He received the venia legendy in Botany in 2004 from the Westfälische Wilhelms University in Münster and was appointed as Privatdozent. In 2009 he accepted a Faculty position at the Institute of Biological Chemistry at Washington State University, WA, USA where he now works as tenured Full Professor in Plant Biochemistry.


Helmut Kirchhoff’s research focuses on environmentally triggered structural dynamics of photosynthetic membranes in plant chloroplasts. He explores how these structural dynamics control the conversion of energy from sunlight to chemical energy, the process that fuels almost all life on earth. His team established a set of different methods ranging from light and electron microscopy, image analysis, diverse biochemical techniques, in vivo spectroscopy to computer modeling. These approaches reveal detailed mechanistic insights into the dynamic structure-function relationships in photosynthetic membranes from the entire membrane level (micrometer) to the molecular level (sub-nanometer). Knowledge about these processes is not only valuable for basic sciences but can help engineer crop plants to adapt to challenges dictated by the global climate crisis. His research has been published in leading scientific journals like Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Nature Plants, and Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Representative publications:

  • M. Li, V. Svoboda, G. Davis, D. Kramer, H.H. Kunz, H. Kirchhoff (2021) Impact of ion fluxes across thylakoid membranes on photosynthetic electron transport and photoprotection. Nature Plants 7, 979-988
  • R. Höhner, M. Pribil, M. Herbstová, L.S. Lopez, H.-H. Kunz, M. Li, M. Wood, V. Svoboda, S. Puthiyaveetil, D. Leister, H. Kirchhoff (2020) Plastocyanin is the long-range electron carrier between photosystem II and photosystem I in plants. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 117, 15354-15362
  • S Tietz, M Leuenberger, R Höhner, AH Olson, GR Fleming, H Kirchhoff (2020) A proteoliposome-based system reveals how lipids control photosynthetic light harvesting. J. Biol. Chem. 295, 1857-1866 
  • H. Kirchhoff (2019) Chloroplast ultrastructure in plants. New Phytologist 223, 565-574.
  • H. Koochak. S. Puthiyaveetil, D. Mullendore, M. Li, H. Kirchhoff (2019) The structural and functional domains of plant thylakoid membranes. The Plant Journal 97, 412-429. 
  • S. Puthiyaveetil, B. von Oort, H. Kirchhoff (2017) Surface charge dynamics in photosynthetic membranes and its structural consequences. Nature Plants 3, 17020.
  • S. Puthiyaveetil, O. Tsabari, T. Lowry, S. Lenhert, R.R. Lewis, Z. Reich, H. Kirchhoff (2014) Compartmentalization of the Protein Repair Machinery in Photosynthetic Membranes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 111, 15839-15844.