Washington University in St. Louis
Campus Box 1137
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
DBBS graduate programs Plant and Microbial Biosciences Program Biochemistry Program Computational and Molecular Biophysics Program
Our research program is primarily concerned with elucidating the mechanism of the energy-storing reactions in photosynthetic organisms, as well as understanding the origin and early evolution of photosynthesis.
The chemical reactions leading to long-term energy storage in photosynthetic systems take place within the membrane-bound reaction center complex and an associated group of proteins that make up an electron transport chain. One of the central goals of our research is to identify the molecular parameters responsible for the fact that essentially every photon absorbed by the system leads to stable products. To this end, we do a variety of kinetic, thermodynamic and structural measurements on antenna complexes, reaction centers, electron transport proteins and isolated pigments, using a number of techniques, including ultrafast laser flash photolysis and UV-VIS, fluorescence and electron spin resonance spectroscopies, as well as biochemical and molecular biological analysis.
The appearance of photosynthesis and other metabolic processes such as nitrogen fixation had profound effects on the evolution of advanced life on Earth. Our analysis of whole bacterial genomes has revealed that these metabolic processes have complex evolutionary histories, including substantial horizontal gene transfer. We have also used a combination of genomic, molecular evolution techniques and biochemical analysis to identify and characterize previously unknown enzyme complexes with novel activities.
Photo caption: The photosynthetic megacomplex from a cyanobacterium, which scientists have managed to isolate in its complete, functioning form, weighs about 6 million Daltons. It has three parts: on top is a light-harvesting antenna complex called a phycobilisome that captures and funnels the energy in sunlight to two reaction centers, Photosystem II (the complex protruding beneath the antenna) and Photosystem I (the complexes to either side Photosystem II). The megacomplex is embedded in a membrane shown as a green carpet.
Liu H, Zhang H, Niedzwiedzki DM, Prado M, He G, Gross ML and Blankenship RE (2013) Phycobilisomes supply excitations to both photosystems in a megacomplex in cyanobacteria. Science 342: 1104-1107.
Blankenship RE (2014) Molecular Mechanisms of Photosynthesis, 2nd Ed. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. ISBN 978-1-4051-8975-0
You L, Liu H, Blankenship RE and Tang YJ (2015) Use of Photosystem I as a reporter protein for 13C-analysis in a coculture containing cyanobacterium and a heterotrophic bacterium. Analytical Biochemistry 477: 86-88.
Blankenship RE (2015) Photosynthesis: The light reactions, Chapter 7 in: Plant Physiology and Development, 6th Ed., L Taiz and E Zeiger, Eds., Sinauer Publishing, pps 171-202.
Ort DR, Merchant SS, Alric J, Barkan A, Blankenship RE, Bock R, Croce R, Hanson MR, Hibberd J, Lindstrom DL, Long SP, Moore TA, Moroney J, Niyogi KK, Parry M, Peralta-Yahya P, Prince R, Redding K, Spalding M, van Wijk K, Vermaas WFJ, von Caemmerer S, Weber W, Yeates T, Yuan J, Zhu X (2015) Redesigning photosynthesis to sustainably meet global food and bioenergy demand. Proc. Nat’l. Acad. Sci. USA 112: 8529-8536.
Shah VB, Henson WR, Chadha TS, Lakin G, Liu H, Blankenship RE and Biswas P (2015) Linker free directed assembly of Photosystem I onto nanostructured TiO2 for biohybrid photo-electrochemical cell. Langmuir 31: 1675–1682.
Kihara S, Hartzler D, Orf GS, Blankenship RE and Savikhin S (2015) Triplet energy transfer in the Fenna-Matthews-Olson complex. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 119: 5765-5772.
Cui W, Zhang H, Blankenship RE and Gross ML (2015) Electron-capture dissociation and ion mobility for characterization of the hemoglobin protein assembly. Protein Science 24: 1325-1132.
He G, Niedzwiedzki DM, Orf GS, Zhang H and Blankenship RE (2015) Dynamics of Energy and Electron Transfer in the FMO-Reaction Center Complex from the Phototrophic Green Sulfur Bacterium Chlorobaculum tepidum. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 119: 8321−8329.
Jiang J, Zhang H, Lu X, Lu Y, Cuneo MJ, O’Neill HM, Urban V, Lo CS, Blankenship RE (2015) Oligomerization State and Pigment Binding Strength of the Peridinin-Chl a-Protein. FEBS Letters 589: 2713-2719.
Blankenship RE (2015) Structural and functional dynamics of photosynthetic antenna complexes. Proc. Nat’l. Acad. Sci. USA. 112: 13751–13752.
Majumder EL-W, Olsen JD, Qian P, Collins AM, Hunter CN and Blankenship RE (2016) Supramolecular organization of photosynthetic complexes in membranes of Roseiflexus castenholzii. Photosynthesis Research, 127: 117-130.
Majumder ELW and Blankenship RE (2016) The diversity of photosynthetic cytochromes. In: Cytochrome Complexes: Evolution, Structures, Energy Transduction, and Signaling, W Cramer and T Kallas, Eds., Springer, Dordrecht. Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration, Vol. 41, pps 25-50. (IR)
Lu Y, Zhang H, Cui W, Saer R, Liu H, Gross ML, and Blankenship RE (2015) Top-down Mass Spectrometry Analysis of Membrane-bound Light-Harvesting Complex 2 from Rhodobacter sphaeroides Biochemistry, 54: 7261-7271.
Zhang H, Liu H, Blankenship RE and Gross ML (2016) Isotope-encoded Carboxyl Group Footprinting for Mass Spectrometry-based Protein Conformational Studies. Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, 27: 178-181.
Kavadiya S, Chadha TS, Liu H, Shah VB, Blankenship RE and Biswas P (2016) Directed Assembly of Thylakoid Membrane on Nanostructured TiO2 for a Photo-electrochemical Cell. Nanoscale 8: 1868-1872.
Zhang, H, Liu, H, Lu, Y, Wolf, NR, Gross ML and Blankenship RE (2016) Native Mass Spectrometry and Ion Mobility Characterize the Orange Carotenoid Protein Functional Domains. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1857: 734-739.
Liu H, Zhang H, Orf GS, Lu Y, Jiang J, King JD, Wolf NR, Gross ML and Blankenship RE (2016) Dramatic Domain Rearrangements of the Cyanobacterial Orange Carotenoid Protein upon Photoactivation. Biochemistry 55: 1003-1009.
Yoneda A, Wittmann BJ, King JD, Blankenship RE, Dantas G (2016) Transcriptomic analysis illuminates genes involved in chlorophyll synthesis after nitrogen starvation in Acaryochloris sp. CCMEE 5410. Photosynthesis Research 129: 171-182.
Niedzwiedzki DM, Tronina T, Liu H, Staleva H, Komenda J, Sobotka R, Blankenship RE, and Polívka T (2016) Carotenoid-induced non-photochemical quenching in the cyanobacterial chlorophyll synthase-HliC/D complex. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1857: 1430-1439.
Saer R, Orf GS, Lu X, Zhang H, Myles D and Robert E. Blankenship RE (2016) Perturbation of Bacteriochlorophyll Molecules in Fenna-Matthews-Olson Protein Complexes through Mutagenesis of Cysteine Residues. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1857: 1455-1463.
Orf GS, Saer R, McIntosh CL, Zhang H, Niedzwiedzki DM and Blankenship RE (2016) Reactive cysteine residues gate energy transfer in the FMO complex from Chlorobaculum tepidum. Proc. Nat’l. Acad. Sci. USA. 113: E4486–E4493.
Magdaong NCM, Niedzwiedzki DM, Goodson C and Blankenship RE (2016) Carotenoid-to-Bacteriochlorophyll Energy Transfer in the LH1-RC Core Complex of a Bacteriochlorophyll b-Containing Purple Photosynthetic Bacterium Blastochloris viridis. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 120: 5159-5171.