Imperial College London

Dr Tanai Cardona

Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences

Research Associate



+44 (0)20 7594 1778t.cardona Website




717Sir Ernst Chain BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





My research program employs a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the molecular evolution of photosynthetic reaction centers and photochemical energy conversion. My specialty is the evolution of Photosystem II, the water oxidizing enzyme of oxygenic photosynthesis. I want to figure out how water oxidation catalysis originated and what it implies for the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis, early life, and the evolution of bioenergetic systems.

I write a science blog where I share some unpublished data and ideas about my research and some scientific commentary. If you're curious, please visit:

I also post research updates on ResearchGate about the evolution of anoxygenic and oxygenic photosynthesis.

A bit more about me: I obtained a Biology degree at University of Los Andes in Colombia, followed by a doctorate in chemistry at Uppsala University in Sweden. I became interested in photosynthesis research when I was still a teenager and I consider myself very fortunate that today I am still investigating my favorite subject at a world-class academic institution. During my PhD I studied the photosynthetic machinery of specialized cell types in a multicellular cyanobacterium of biotechnological interest using state-of-the-art biophysical and biochemical techniques. As postdoc I joined the laboratory of Prof. A. William Rutherford FRS at the Commission for Atomic and Alternative Energies in Saclay, France; where I was awarded with the prestigious Eurotalents Postdoctoral Fellowship (CEA-Marie Curie Actions). In France, I characterized a hybrid fuel-cell consisting of Photosystem II on conductive nanostructured electrodes using electrochemistry. I completed my postdoc at Imperial and I have now started my own independent research program on the molecular evolution of photosynthesis.


March, 2019. My critical review debunking common myths in the study of the evolution of photosynthesis is out now in the Royal Society's Open Biology journal: Thinking twice about the evolution of photosynthesis. Have a read!

It has also been featured on the Royal Society's blog!

January, 2019. We submitted a manuscript on the evolution of anoxygenic photosynthesis in an uncultivated group of bacteria, the candidate phylum WPS-2. These bacteria are photosynthetic and use a novel Type II reaction center distantly related to that of Chloroflexi and Proteobacteria. Have a look! Evolutionary Implications of Anoxygenic Phototrophy in the Bacterial Phylum Candidatus Eremiobacterota (WPS-2). This is a collaborative work with Lewis M. Ward (Harvard University) and Hannah Holland-Moritz (University of Colorado Boulder).

December, 2018. I have uploaded a preprint describing a potential calcium-binding site on the structure of the homodimeric Type-I reaction center of Heliobacterium modesticaldum (an anoxygenic phototrophic representative of the Firmicutes). This calcium-binding site has a number of striking parallels with the water-oxidising cluster of Photosystem II. It is in collaboration with Prof. A. Rutherford: Evolution of photochemical reaction centres: more twists? 

Reaction center of Heliobacterium modesticaldum

November, 2018. My paper on the molecular evolution of Photosystem II is published now in Geobiology:

Oxygen could have been available to life as early as 3.5 billion years ago

June, 2018. Our paper on the photochemistry of chlorophyll-f containing photosystems was recently published in Science:

New type of photosynthesis discovered

March, 2018. I have been invited to give a plenary talk at the 16th International Symposium on Phototrophic Prokaryotes to be held in Vancouver. I was also invited to give a departmental seminar at the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis at Arizona State University and the School of Geographical Sciences at Bristol University. I was also invited to give a talk at the 1st Symposium of Research for Latin America, which was held at Imperial this February.

Massive news, October 2017. One of my projects to reconstruct and study ancestral photosystems have been funded by the Leverhulme Trust! it is a three years research project including a PhD studentship.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Cardona Londono T, 2019, Thinking twice about the evolution of photosynthesis, Open Biology, Vol:9, ISSN:2046-2441

Cardona Londono T, Sanchez-Baracaldo P, Rutherford AW, et al., 2018, Early Archean origin of Photosystem II, Geobiology, ISSN:1472-4669

Nuernberg DJ, Morton J, Santabarbara S, et al., 2018, Photochemistry beyond the red limit in chlorophyll f-containing photosystems, Science, Vol:360, ISSN:0036-8075, Pages:1210-1213

Cardona T, Shao S, Nixon PJ, 2018, Enhancing photosynthesis in plants: the light reactions, Essays in Biochemistry, Vol:62, ISSN:0071-1365, Pages:85-94

Cardona Londono T, 2018, Early Archean origin of heterodimeric Photosystem I, Heliyon, Vol:4, ISSN:2405-8440

Cardona Londono T, 2016, Origin of bacteriochlorophyll a and the early diversification of photosynthesis, PLOS One, Vol:11, ISSN:1932-6203

Cardona Londono T, 2016, Reconstructing the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis: do assembly and photoactivation recapitulate evolution?, Frontiers in Plant Science, Vol:7, ISSN:1664-462X

Cardona T, Murray JW, Rutherford AW, 2015, Origin and Evolution of Water Oxidation before the Last Common Ancestor of the Cyanobacteria., Mol Biol Evol, Vol:32, Pages:1310-1328

Cotton CA, Douglass JS, De Causmaecker S, et al., 2015, Photosynthetic constraints on fuel from microbes., Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, Vol:3, ISSN:2296-4185

Cardona T, 2014, A fresh look at the evolution and diversification of photochemical reaction centers, Photosynthesis Research, ISSN:1573-5079

Cardona T, Sedoud A, Cox N, et al., 2012, Charge separation in Photosystem II: A comparative and evolutionary overview, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta-Bioenergetics, Vol:1817, ISSN:0005-2728, Pages:26-43

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