Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence

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The Melis Lab

Professor Anastasios Melis

The Melis Lab at UC Berkeley studies the photosynthesis of plants, microalgae, cyanobacteria and photosynthetic bacteria. 

Approaches include biophysics and biochemistry of the process, molecular biology and genetics of the organisms, and scale-ups for product generation. Applied aspects include diverting the flow of photosynthesis to generate high-value compounds instead of the normally produced sugars.

Products of interest for the lab include biofuels, feedstock for the synthetic chemistry industry and pharmaceuticals. The lab's trademark is product generation directly from photosynthesis, bypassing the need to harvest and process the respective biomass. Professor Melis earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Athens, Ph.D. from the Florida State University and did postdoctoral training at Rijksuniversiteit Leiden, The Netherlands and the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford.

Groundbreaking Research in Photosynthesis

The concept of “Photosynthetic Biofuels”, envisioned and pioneered by the Melis Lab, entails the direct application of photosynthesis for the generation of biofuels, in a process where a single organism acts both as photocatalyst and processor, synthesizing and secreting ready to use fuels.

The lab contributed with a breakthrough in the field, when in 2000 they demonstrated, for the first time, how to divert the natural flow of photosynthesis in green microalgae and to sustainably generate hydrogen gas, instead of the normally produced oxygen. This technology is currently employed by many laboratories in several countries, and serves as the platform for further photobiological hydrogen production research in the field.

The Melis lab also pioneered and currently leads an international effort to improve, by up to 300%, the efficiency and productivity of photosynthesis in mass cultures under bright sunlight conditions. This is implemented upon genetically optimizing the size of the array of chlorophyll molecules that serve as antennae to absorb sunlight for the photosynthetic apparatus.

In 2010, the Melis lab pioneered yet a new platform for the renewable generation of isoprene (C5H8) hydrocarbons in cyanobacteria and microalgae, derived entirely from sunlight, carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O), and generated immediately from the primary products of photosynthesis. The process of generating isoprene currently serves as a case study in the development of technologies for the renewable generation of a multitude of biofuels and other useful bio-products.

Awards & Accolades

Professor Melis has been recognized for outstanding teaching and research, including:

  • Election to the rank of Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science - 2011
  • Research Achievement Award - US Department of Energy, Hydrogen Program - 2004
  • University Research Award - DaimlerChrysler Corporation - 2003
  • Distinguished Teaching Award - College of Natural Resources - 1994


To learn more about Professor Melis and his work, visit his profile at pmb.berkeley.edu/profile/amelis.