Understanding energy for more efficient agriculture

By Scott Weybright, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – When you eat lunch, you might be thinking about work but probably just are enjoying the taste. John Peters is thinking about metabolism in the context of agriculture and energy.

Peters is the new director of the Institute of Biological Chemistry (IBC) at Washington State University and a renowned biochemist who wants to know how energy is produced at a fundamental level.

“We oxidize what we eat for lunch,” he said. “Our bodies strip off electrons from the food, which powers a process that creates chemical energy that allows us to function. I want to figure out how those processes can be harnessed to form chemical bonds that can be used for energy compounds and fertilizers.”

A native of Oklahoma, Peters looks at the molecular level of any life form that uses energy. That includes how plants process nitrogen – a key component of fertilizer for agriculture.

“How plants use nitrogen is important for crop productivity,” he said. “If we can understand these processes at a fundamental level, strategies can be developed to potentially make growing crops more efficient and economical for farmers – which would have a big environmental impact, reducing fertilizer production and use.

“Our goal is for people to take discoveries we make and apply them to help people all over the world,” he said.

Peters comes to WSU from Montana State University where he led several research efforts, including the Biological Electron Transfer and Catalysis Energy Frontier Research Center. He remains director of that center while based in Pullman.

“I was looking for a new challenge,” he said when asked why he came to WSU. “And the IBC has such a strong reputation, with strengths that complement the work I’m already doing.”

The IBC was established at WSU in 1980 to do foundational research for understanding the biology and biochemistry of plants at the molecular level.

“This is a unit that’s doing great work,” Peters said of the nearly 100 professors, researchers and graduate students affiliated with the center. “I’m here to continue to help develop opportunities for our scientists and promote the work of my colleagues, especially junior faculty and researchers. They’re our next generation of success.”


News media contact:
John Peters, WSU Institute of Biological Chemsitry, 509-335-3412, jw.peters@wsu.edu