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I write a science blog where I share some unpublished data and ideas about my research and some scientific commentary.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, 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.

March, 2018. My latest paper on the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis is now available in the open access journal Heliyon:

This is the press release has been picked up by many media outlets, including Muy Interesante, a Spanish science magazine that I used to read when I was a kid. I still remember their very nice spreads with beautiful dinosaurs drawings.

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.

Also! I have been invited to give a plenary talk at next International Symposium on Phototrophic Prokaryotes, ISPP18!

My research was  featured in an article by award-winning author Natalie Angier in the New York Times and turned into a rap by US biology teacher and science music video creator Tom McFadden, April 20, 2015. Check it out:

Photosynthesis more ancient than thought, and most living things could do it by Hayley Dunning, Imperial College London News, March 14, 2016.

Press release picked up by at least 16 news sites including,,,, (Russian), (Italian), (Spanish), and many more.

New research is getting to the origins of photosynthesis by Neasan O'Neill, Energy Future Lab News, Imperial College London, March 6, 2015

If you want to know more, do not hesitate to send me an email or follow me on twitter @Tanai_Cardona.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Cardona T, Sánchez-Baracaldo P, Rutherford AW, et al., 2018, Early Archean origin of Photosystem II., Geobiology

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

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 T, 2017, Photosystem II is a Chimera of Reaction Centers, Journal of Molecular Evolution, Vol:84, ISSN:0022-2844, Pages:149-151

Cardona T, 2016, Origin of Bacteriochlorophyll a and the Early Diversification of Photosynthesis, PLOS One, Vol:11, ISSN:1932-6203

Cardona 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, 2015, A fresh look at the evolution and diversification of photochemical reaction centers, Photosynthesis Research, Vol:126, ISSN:0166-8595, Pages:111-134

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, 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

More Publications