Sabeeha Merchant


(Adjunct) Professor of Biochemistry; BS and PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Post-doctoral Scholar, Harvard University; Searle Scholar; National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award; UCLA Faculty Career Development Awards; Guggenheim Foundation Fellow; Charles Albert Shull Award of ASPB; Herbert Newby McCoy Award; AAAS Fellow; ASPB Fellow; NAS Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal; ASPB Charles F. Kettering Award; Humboldt Forschungspreis (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation); Darbaker Prize from the Botanical Society of America; Elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; External Member, Max Planck Institute - Molecular Plant Physiology, Elected to Germany Academy of Sciences Leopoldina


Dynamics of Fe and Cu metabolism
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Plants require CO2, water, sunlight and a few minerals for growth and survival. Carbon contributes to biomass and sunlight is the energy source. The mineral requirement includes elements, found only at trace levels, like Fe, Zn, Cu and Mn, that enable the catalysis of an amazing repertoire of reactions, especially in the photosynthetic apparatus where biology’s most powerful oxidants and reductants are found. This structure is rich in metalloproteins and contributes to the high metal quota of some photosynthetic cells. Environmental factors can limit the availability of metals, especially Fe, but also Cu and Zn, and this naturally impacts photosynthetic performance and hence global primary productivity. The Merchant group has discovered mechanisms used by photosynthetic organisms to optimize performance in face of changing metal supply, especially limitation. Reduce, reuse and recycle! For instance, the Cu quota is dramatically reduced (to less than 5% relative to a Cu replete situation) by replacement of the copper-protein plastocyanin in photosynthesis with a functionally equivalent heme-containing cytochrome. This occurs through the action of a copper sensor and a transcription factor that recognizes copper response elements associated with the CYC6 gene. In parallel, plastocyanin is degraded, releasing the Cu cofactor, which is re-used for the biosynthesis of respiratory chain cytochrome oxidase. Similarly, Fe is recycled by degradation of ferredoxin to support the synthesis of an Fe-containing superoxide dismutase. The risk associated with the dynamics of metal ion metabolism is reduced by intracellular storage of these metals in a lysosome-related organelle. In ongoing work, the Merchant laboratory uses elemental and protein mass spectrometry in combination with live cell imaging of metal sensors, state of the art nano secondary ion mass spectrometry and X-ray fluorescence microscopy that offer high spatial resolution, and classical genetics to discover and dissect the biochemistry of the metal storing compartment.

Supported by NIGMS and DOE
Comparative genomics of algae
The Merchant group is also taking advantage of genome-sequencing based approaches for discovery of new components and functions related to photosynthesis and chloroplast biology. The group has amassed the largest collection of RNA-Seq data for Chlamydomonas and we are presently creating co-expression networks with a view to deducing the functions of the many unannotated and uncharacterized proteins encoded in the algal genome. This work complements the prior and ongoing phylogenomics approaches for predicting functions for uncharacterized proteins in the plant lineage. Genomes of extremophile algae, isolated from acid mines or from the Svalbard archipelago, are being sequenced and assembled, with a view to discovering mechanisms for light sensing, photoprotection, CO2 concentration and pyrenoid structure and function. In collaboration with the Niyogi group, we are developing Chromochloris zofingiensis as another algal reference system.  

Supported by DOE

Rising concerns about energy security and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel dependence has created a resurgence in interest in alternative fuel sources. "Biodiesel Fuel" by Prof. Suzanne Paulson of the UCLA Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences and the Institute of the Environment examines the different types of biodiesel fuel source material, the resources needed to produce this fuel, climate impacts and future applications. The Merchant laboratory has used systems biology approaches, including metabolomics, proteomics and transcriptomics, to deduce the metabolic pathways and regulatory factors that promote the synthesis of triglycerides in Chlamydomonas. Similar approaches will be applied to the Chromochloris system.

Supported by DOE

Image 1

Positions for Ph.D. students and post-doctoral scholars may be available in 2019 for all Merchant laboratory projects. Candidates with demonstrated research productivity (publication record) and expertise in genetics or biochemistry are especially encouraged to apply for post-doctoral positions. Ph.D. candidates should apply to one of the following programs at UC-Berkeley.


From my Ph.D. thesis research

From my Post-Doctoral Research

92. Merchant, S. (2009) Lawrence Bogorad 1921 - 2003: A Biographical Memoir. National Academy of Sciences.

From my Group 1990-1995

From my Group 1996-2000

From my Group 2001-2005

From my Group 2006-2010

From my Group 2011-2015

From my Group 2016-Present

157. Anderson, A. Laohavisit, A., Blaby, I.K, Bombelli, P., Howe, C.J., Merchant, S.S., Davies, J.M, Smith, A.G. (2016) Exploiting algal NADPH oxidase for biophotovoltaic energy. Plant Biotech. J. 14:24-28.


158. Reyes, V., Spitzmiller, M., Hong-Hermesdorf, A., Kropat, J., Damoiseaux, R., Merchant, S.S., Mahendra, S. (2016) Copper Status of Exposed Microorganisms Influences Susceptibility to Metallic Nanoparticles. Env. Toxicol. Chem. 35:1148-1158. doi: 10.1002/etc.3254


159. Kumar, D., Blaby-Haas, C.E., Merchant, S.S., Mains, R.E., King, S.M., Eipper, B.A. (2016) Cilia-associated bioactive peptide amidating activity preceded the emergence of multicellularity. J. Cell. Sci. 129:143-156.


160. Blaby-Haas, C.E., Castruita, M., Fitz-Gibbon, S.T., Kropat, J. and Merchant, S.S. (2016) Ni mimics Cu deficiency and induces the CRR1-dependent regulon in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Metallomics, in press.


161. Strenkert, D., Limso, C.A., Fatihi, A., Schmollinger, S., Basset, G.J., Merchant, S.S. (2016) Genetically programmed changes in photosynthetic cofactor metabolism in copper deficient Chlamydomonas. J. Biol. Chem. 291:19118 –19131.


162. Wells, M.L., Potin, P., Craigie, J., Raven, J.A., Merchant, S.S., Helliwell, K.E., Smith, A.G., Camire, M.E., Brawley, S.H. (2016) Algae as Nutritional and Functional Food Sources: Revisiting Our Understanding. J. Appl. Phycol., accepted for publication.


163. Traller, J.C., Cokus, S.J., Lopez, D.A., Gaidarenko, O., Smith, S.R., McCrow, J.P., Gallaher, S.D., Podell, S. , Thompson, M., Cook, O., Morselli, M., Jaroszewicz, A., Allen, E.E., Allen, A.E., Merchant, S.S., Pellegrini, M., Hildebrand, M. (2016) Genome and methylome of the oleaginous diatom Cyclotella cryptica reveal genetic flexibility toward a high lipid phenotype. Biotechnol. Biofuels., accepted.

162. Kumar, D., Strenkert, D., Patel-King, R.S., Leonard, M.T., Merchant, S.S., Mains, R.E., King, S.M., Eipper, B.A. (2017) A bioactive peptide amidating enzyme is required for ciliogenesis. eLife.

163. Roth, M.S., Cokus, S.J., Gallaher, S.D., Walter, A., Lopez, D., Erickson, E.,  Endelman, B., Westcott, D., Larabell, C.A., Merchant, S.S.,  Pellegrini, M., Niyogi, K.K. (2017) Chromosome-level genome assembly and transcriptome of the green alga Chromochloris zofingiensis illuminates astaxanthin production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114(21). Supplemental Data. Press releases: US Dept. of Energy Office of Science, Science Daily, Biofuels International Magazine, Innovation Report,, Science and Technology Research News, ScienceBlog, HealAlerts

164. Wittkopp, T.M., Schmollinger, S., Saroussia, S.I., Hu, W., Fane, Q., Gallaher, S.D., Leonard, M.T., Soubeyrand, E., Basset, G.J., Merchant, S.S., Grossman, A.R., Duanmu, D., Lagarias, J.C. (in revision) Bilin-dependent photoacclimation in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

165. Xue, Y., Schmollinger, S., Attar, N., Campos, O.A., Vogelauer, M., Carey, M.F., Merchant, S.S., Kurdistani, S.K. (2017) Endoplasmic reticulum–mitochondria junction is required for iron homeostasis. J. Biol. Chem., in press.

166. Lojek, L.J., Farrand, A.J., Wisecaver, J.H., Blaby-Haas, C.E., Michel, B.W., Merchant, S.S., Rokas, A., Skaar, E.P. (2017) Chlamydomonas reinhardtii  cMO is an IsdG family heme oxygenase. mSphere, in press.


From my sabbatical in the Schatz group at the Biozentrum in Basel

49. Koehler, C. M., Merchant, S., Oppliger, W., Schmid, K., Jarosch, E., Dolfini, L., Junne, T., Schatz, G., Tokatlidis, K. (1998) Tim9p, An Essential Partner Subunit of Tim10p for the Import of Mitochondrial Carrier Proteins. EMBO J. 17:6477-6486.

50. Koehler, C.M., Leuenberger, D., Merchant, S., Renold, A., Junne, T., Schatz, G. (1999) Human Deafness Dystonia Syndrome is a Mitochondrial Disease. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA 96:2141-2146. see commentary

51. Koehler, C.M., Merchant, S., Schatz, G. (1999) How membrane proteins travel across the mitochondrial intermembrane space. Trends in Biochem. Sci. 24: 428-432.

From my sabbatical in the Schekman group at UC-Berkeley

56. Springer, S., Chen, E., Duden, R., Marzioch, M., Rowley, A., Hamamoto, S., Merchant, S., Schekman, R. (2000) The p24 proteins are not essential for vesicular transport in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97:4034-4039. see commentary.

From my sabbatical in the Bock group at MPIMP-Potsdam

132. Fristedt, R., Scharff, L.B., Clarke, C.A., Wang, Q., Lin, C., Merchant, S.S., Bock, R. (2014) RBF1, a plant homologue of the bacterial ribosome-binding factor RbfA, acts in processing of the chloroplast 16S rRNA. Plant Physiol. 164:201-215.

147. Fristedt, R., Martins, N.F., Strenkert, D., Clarke, C.A., Suchoszek, M., Thiele, W., Schöttler, M.A., Merchant, S.S. (2015) The thylakoid membrane protein CGL160 supports CF1CF0 ATP synthase accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana. PLoS One: 10:e0121658.



1. Rochaix, J.-D., Goldschmidt-Clermont, M., Merchant, S., eds. (1998) Molecular Biology of Chlamydomonas: Chloroplasts and Mitochondria. Advances in Photosynthesis (Govindjee, series ed.), Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Sabeeha Merchant and Elaine Tobin interview Winslow Briggs

Online Articles

Merchant, S.S. (2010) Green with envy: on citation of the chlorophyll assay. Commentary on Arnon DI (1949) Copper enzymes in isolated chloroplasts. Plant Physiol. 24:1-15.


Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Box 951569 (post)
607 Charles E. Young Drive East (courier)
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Skype logo Skype i.d. - sabeeha.merchant

GROUP MEMBERS - Merchant Group Resources

Former Ph.D. Students
Michael Allen - mallen278 at - Commencement Ceremony and Party
Kent Hill - Graduation (1994) - Dinner (2003) - Voice of America Interview - Photos
Gregg Howe - Photos
Steven Karpowicz - skarp at - Photos
Scott Hsieh - sihsieh at
Hong Hua Li - honghua_li2003 at - Photos
Jeffrey Moseley - jmoseley at - Photos
Stacie Nakamoto - nakamoto at - Photos
Aimee Terauchi - aimee.terauchi at - Photos
Zhiyi Xie - Zhiyi.Xie at - Photos

Former Post-Doctoral Scholars
Ian Blaby - - Ian wins 2014 MBI Post Doc Award
Crysten Blaby-Haas - - Crysten wins 2015 MBI Boyer-Peter Award
Ute Boronowsky - ute.boronowsky at
Nanette Boyle - nanette.boyle at - Photos
Madeli Castruita - madeli at - Photos
Duane Culler
Jose del Campo - joseantonio.delcampo at - Photos
Jen-Chih Chen - jchchen at - Jen Chih, Shu Fen, Sabeeha Merchant and Others at National Taiwan University
Beth Dreyfuss - dreyfuss at - Photos
Mats Eriksson -  maer0003 at - Photos
Maria Felix Vazquez-Bermudez - mvazber at
Rikard Fristedt - rikard.fristedt at - Photos
Patrice Hamel - hamel.16 at - Boyer Award Recipient - March 2003
Anja Hemschemeier - anja.hemschemeier at - Algae in Santa Monica
Anne Hong-Hermesdorf - ahhong at - Photos - Winner of 2015 McCoy Award
Janette Kropat - kropat at - Winner of 2013 McCoy Award
Sharon La Fontaine - sharonl at - Visit with Sharon
Joanne Long - jcl_1111 at Jo is Co-Founder and President of IO Rodeo, Inc., an open source hardware consulting company for science and education.
Davin Malasarn - dmalasarn at - Davin's Blog - Davin's First Book - Rey Martin with Sabeeha and Davin - Article on Rey's Research
M. Dudley Page - at - Dudley's Trip to the Computer History Museum
Jeanette Quinn - jeanette.quinn at
Frederik Sommer - derferdi at;
Roland Stube - rstuebe at - Deputy Head of Production of Parenteral Nutrition at Fresenius Kabi Germany / Neufarn Photos - More
Stephen Tottey - steve.tottey at
Mugi Tsednee - mugi at
Eugen I. Urzica - eugen.urzica at
Tomas Westergren - Photos
Hiroaki Yamasaki - yamasaki at - 2008 Visit

Former Visitors
Paola Barraco - Photos
Delphine Bernard
Diana Boy
Jan Cerveny - Jan.Cerveny at
Esperanza del Rio - esperanza at
Petr Ent - petr.ent at
Mats Hansson - mats.hansson at - Fulbright Scholar - Photos
Tabea Mettler-Altmann - tabea.mettler at - Photos
Marcus Miethke
Simona Stube - Photos
Ph.D. Students presently in the group
Anne Glaesener - anneg at -Photos
Colleen Hui

Post-doctoral Scholars presently in the group
Lital Davidi - lital at
Kristen Holbrook - kholbrook at

Visiting Researchers

Professional Staff
Sean Gallaher - gallaher at
Patrice Salome - salome at
Madeli Castruita - madeli at
Stefan Schmollinger - schmolli at
Daniela Strenkert - danielas at

Maria Gutierrez


Gilles Basset - gbasset at - on Chlamydomonas quinones and tocopherols
Arthur Grossman - arthurg at - on Chlamydomonas genomics
Ute Kraemer - ute.kraemer at - on Cu homeostasis in Arabidopsis - Ute Kraemer's Baby Elias! - Ute's Wedding!
Joseph Loo - jloo at - on proteomic analysis of nutrient deficiency
Krishna Niyogi - niyogi at - algal genomics
Matteo Pellegrini - matteop at - on genome assembly and annotation
Jennifer Pett-Ridge - pettridge2 at - on NanoSIMS analysis of Chlamydomonas cells
Martina Ralle - rallem at - on Xray analysis of metal accumulation in Chlamydomonas

Timothy Stemmler - timothy.stemmler at - on Xray analysis of metal accumulation in Chlamydomonas
Jim Umen - JUmen at - on Chlamydomonas chromatin

Noam Adir - nadir at - on metalloprotein structure
Christoph Benning - benning at - on lipids in Chlamydomonas
Maryse Block - block at - on localization of chlorophyll biosynthesis enzymes
Jean-Pierre Carde - jean-pierre.carde at - on localization of chlorophyll biosynthesis enzymes
Chris Chang - - on visualization of sites of metal accumulation using fluorescent probes
Genevieve Dujardin - dujardin at - on mitochondrial cytochrome biogenesis

David Giedroc - giedroc at on metal binding to SBP - Lecture at UCLA 2014
Ursula Goodenough - ursula at - on TAG synthesis in Chlamydomonas
Mats Hansson - mats.hansson at Fulbright Scholar - on the aerobic oxidative cyclase in chlorophyll biosynthesis
Toshiharu Hase - enzyme at - on ferredoxin biochemistry
Mark Hildebrand - mhildebrand at - on Cyclotella genomics
Michael Hippler - mhippler at - on molecular responses to Fe-deficiency

Peter Huijser - huijser at - on SBP domains
Poul Erik Jensen - peje at - on the aerobic oxidative cyclase in chlorophyll biosynthesis
David Knaff - david.knaff at - on ferredoxin biochemistry
Dan Kosman - camkos at - on copper uptake
(Andrew) Zed Mason - zedmason at - on measurement of metalloproteins in Chlamydomonas
Lauren Mets - mets at - on genetic analysis of Chlamydomonas mutants
Simon Prochnik - seprochnik at - Chlamydomonas genomics
Richard Sayre - rsayre at - on chlorella transcriptomics
Eric Skaar - Eric.Skaar at on heme oxidation
Steve Theg - smtheg at - on localization of plastid proteins

Todd Yeates - yeates at - on structural analysis of plastocyanin and cytochrome c6
Francis-Andre Wollman - wollman at - on b and c type cytochrome mutants

Sino-American Joint Photosynthesis Symposium (1991)
Brisbane, Australia (2001)
Lake Tahoe (2002)
Chlamy Meeting (2002)
Gordon Research Conference (2002)
Ischia (2002)
Joshua Tree (2003)
Embo Workshop (2003)
Embo Workshop (2006)
Bogorad Group Reunion at Legal Sea Foods in Boston at ASPB (2006)
Chlamydomonas Meeting in Freiburg (2007)
ICTPPO Meeting in Kyoto (2007)
Chlamydomonas Meeting in France (2008)
"The Unbearable Complexity of Life" - Tel Aviv, Israel (2008)
Chloroplast Biology Meeting - Taiwan (2008)
Keystone Symposium on Biofuels (2011) - Visit to the Singapore Botanical Garden
GRC Cell Biology of Metals Conference Group Photo (2011)
GRC Photosynthesis Conference Group Photo (2011)
ARPB Meeting Dinner in Zurich, October (2012)
Chlamy Group Photo (2012)
Light Sensing Symposium in honor of Jean-David Rochaix (2012)
GRC Cell Biology of Metals Conference Group Photo (2013) - Candids at meeting
GSA Chlamy Group Photo (2014)
GRC Photosynthesis Conference Group Photo (2015)
Western Photosynthesis Conference, Colorado (2016) - Group Photo at Heck's
GRC Group Photo: Organellar Channels & Transporters (2017)
GRC Group Photo: Cell Biology of Metals (2017)
GRC Group Photo: Photosynthesis (2017)

UCLA Plant Biology (2003)
Plant Biologists at UCLA
Chem 161 - Spring 2008
Michele Wang's Graduation (2009)
Visit to Harz mountains with Prof. Ralf Mendel (2011)
En Route to Asilomar (2012)
Rey Martin's Graduation (2012)
Xenie & Jean Alric's New Baby (2014)
Chem 161 - Spring 2014
Farewell to Steven Simak
Sabeeha at TrickEye Museum in Hong Kong (2017)
Rainbow in Germany (2017)
Breadmaking in Germany (2017)
Former Undergraduate Student Rey Martin Ph.D. Hooding (2017)
Sabeeha in Wuhan (2018)

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Updated May 16, 2018