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Donald Richard Ort

Profile picture for Donald Richard Ort

Contact Information

1206 W. Gregory Dr.
Urbana IL 61801


Research Description

Molecular and biochemical basis for environmental effects on photosynthesis, photosynthetic energy transduction

Currently, my research team of postdoctoral associates is investigating the molecular and biochemical bases of the interactions of crop plant photosynthesis with the rapid changes that are occurring in the atmosphere and on diverse strategies to improve photosynthetic efficiency.

Improving photosynthetic efficiency. The yield potential (Yp) of a grain crop is the seed mass per unit ground area obtained under optimum growing conditions without weeds, pests and diseases. It is determined by the product of the available light energy and by the genetically determined properties: the efficiency of light capture (Ei), the efficiency of the conversion of the intercepted light into biomass (Ec) and the proportion of biomass partitioned into grain (η). Plant breeding brings η and Ei for some crops close to their theoretical maxima, leaving Ec, primarily determined by photosynthesis, as the only remaining major prospect for improving Yp. Numerous potential routes of increasing Ec by improving photosynthetic efficiency are explored, ranging from altered canopy architecture to lower the energetic cost of photorespiration by engineering new pathways. Collectively and in combination, these changes could improve Ec and, therefore, Yp by more than 50%. Because some changes could be achieved by transgenic technology, the time of the development of commercial cultivars could be considerably less than by conventional breeding and potentially, within 10–15 years

Impacts of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and tropospheric ozone on photosynthesis and productivity of soybean and corn. Corn and soybean fields are the largest ecosystem in the U.S., dominating the Midwest landscape. SoyFACE, a unique open-air laboratory that uses fast-feedback control technology to treat large, fully-replicated areas with future CO2*, ozone, and soil moisture levels. This facility provides multi-user training and research on topics from soil microbes and gene expression to regional economies, C-cycling and crop yield. My research group and our collaborators are investigating the effects of atmospheric change on photosynthesis and crop yield, as well as the interaction of increased atmospheric CO2 and temperature.

Genomic ecology of global change. How ecosystems will respond to rapid changes in climate represents one of the great scientific challenges of this century. Human activities are altering the composition of our atmosphere (CO2 and O3), affecting the Earth’s climate system (leading to elevated temperature and water deficits) and introducing invasive species—thus altering the capacity of native and agro-ecosystems to provide critical goods and services including food, fiber, fuel as well as clean air and water. Though the phenomenology of ecosystem responses to elements of global change is receiving considerable attention, it has been predominantly limited to descriptive research at the level of the individual. Illinois has established the only facility worldwide for studying the simultaneous effects of rising carbon dioxide, ozone, and drought on plants under completely open-air conditions. We are therefore in a unique position to establish an internationally unique research program to examine the effects of global atmospheric change on the transcriptome and proteome of agro-ecosystems. The aim of the “Genomic Ecology of Global Change” research theme within the Carl R. Woese Institute of Genomic Biology is to produce the scientific foundation to use information obtainable at the level of genomes and proteomes of species and communities to predict the effect of environmental changes on the structure and function of ecosystems. Mathematical modeling and bioinformatics provide the conceptual foundation and data analysis tools for making sound scientific inference. To achieve this aim, we have assembled an interdisciplinary team of eight faculty spanning molecular to ecological research, within an overarching link of mathematical modeling and informatics.


PhD, 1974, Michigan State University

Awards and Honors

Charles F. Kettering Award, American Society of Plant Biologists
Fellow, American Society of Plant Biologists
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Distinguished Professor Fellowship, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Science Hall of Fame, USDA Agricultural Research Service
2015, 2016, 2018 Most Highly Cited Researcher in Plant and Animal Science, Institute for Scientific Information
Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences

Additional Campus Affiliations

Robert Emerson Professor, Plant Biology
Robert Emerson Professor, Crop Sciences
Professor, Plant Biology
Professor, Crop Sciences
Professor, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
CAS Professor, Center for Advanced Study
Professor, Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies

Recent Publications

Cho, Y. B., Boyd, R. A., Ren, Y., Lee, M. S., Jones, S. I., Ruiz-Vera, U. M., McGrath, J. M., Masters, M. D., & Ort, D. R. (2024). Reducing chlorophyll levels in seed-filling stages results in higher seed nitrogen without impacting canopy carbon assimilation. Plant Cell and Environment, 47(1), 278-293.

Aspray, E. K., Mies, T. A., McGrath, J. A., Montes, C. M., Dalsing, B., Puthuval, K. K., Whetten, A., Herriott, J., Li, S., Bernacchi, C. J., DeLucia, E. H., Leakey, A. D. B., Long, S. P., McGrath, J. M., Miglietta, F., Ort, D. R., & Ainsworth, E. A. (2023). Two decades of fumigation data from the Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment facility. Scientific Data, 10(1), Article 226.

Bernacchi, C. J., Ruiz-Vera, U. M., Siebers, M. H., DeLucia, N. J., & Ort, D. R. (2023). Short- and long-term warming events on photosynthetic physiology, growth, and yields of field grown crops. Biochemical Journal, 480(13), 999-1014.

Cavanagh, A. P., & Ort, D. R. (2023). Transgenic strategies to improve the thermotolerance of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis research, 158(2), 109-120.

Cho, Y. B., Stutz, S. S., Jones, S. I., Wang, Y., Pelech, E. A., & Ort, D. R. (2023). Impact of pod and seed photosynthesis on seed filling and canopy carbon gain in soybean. Plant physiology, 193(2), 966-979. Article kiad324.

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