Thomas D. (Tom) Sharkey studies the exchange of gases between plants and the atmosphere. The biochemistry and biophysics underlying carbon dioxide uptake and isoprene emission from plants form the two major research topics in his laboratory. Among his contributions are measurement of the carbon dioxide concentration inside leaves, an exhaustive study of short-term feedback effects in carbon metabolism of photosynthesis, and elucidation of the pathway by which leaf starch breaks down at night. Tom has been a pioneer in researching the emission of isoprene from plants, working to explain why plants emit more isoprene into the atmosphere than all of the hydrocarbons resulting from human activities.
Tom obtained his PhD in the Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University studying stomatal responses to light. He was a post-doc with Graham Farquhar at the Australian National University. After five years at the Desert Research Institute in Reno Nevada, Tom was a Professor of Botany at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. There he held a number of posts including Chair of Botany and Director of the Biotron, a controlled environment facility for plants and animals. In 2008 Tom returned to Michigan State University to be Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology until 2017. He currently is a University Distinguished Professor in the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory and a member of the Plant Resilience Institute. Tom has served as chair of the Public Affairs Committee of ASPB and was elected Fellow of ASPB and AAAS.