Robert Blankenship

Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor in Arts and Sciences Emeritus
PhD, University of California, Berkeley
BS, Nebraska Wesleyan University
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    ​Professor Blankenship studies the energy-storing reactions in photosynthetic organisms, as well as the origin and early evolution of photosynthesis.

    Professor Blankenship's research 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 Dr. Blankenship's 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, he does 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. His lab's analysis of whole bacterial genomes has revealed that these metabolic processes have complex evolutionary histories, including substantial horizontal gene transfer. They have also used a combination of genomic, molecular evolution techniques and biochemical analysis to identify and characterize previously unknown enzyme complexes with novel activities.

    Recent Publications

    Sattley WM, Swingley WD, Burchell BM, Dewey ED, Hayward MK, Renbarger TL, Shaffer KN, Stokes LM, Gurbani SA, Kujawa CM, Nuccio DA, Schladweiler J, Touchman JW, Wang-Otomo Z-Y, Blankenship RE and Madigan MT (2022) Complete genome of the thermophilic purple sulfur bacterium Thermochromatium tepidum compared to Allochromatium vinosum and other Chromatiaceae. Photosynthesis Research 151: 125–142.

    Higgins J, Allodi MA, Lloyd LT, Otto JP, Sohail, SH, Saer RG, Wood RE, Massey SC, Ting P-C, Blankenship RE, and Engel GS (2021) Redox conditions correlated with vibronic coupling modulate quantum beats in photosynthetic pigment-protein complexes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 118: e2112817118.

    Govindjee G and Blankenship RE (2021) Martin David Kamen (1913–2002): Discoverer of Carbon 14, and of new cytochromes in photosynthetic bacteria. Photosynthesis Research 149: 265-273.

    Blankenship, RE (2021) Molecular Mechanisms of Photosynthesis, 3rd Ed., Wiley, Chichester. ISBN-13: 978-1119800019. (B)

    Chen M and Blankenship RE (2021) Photosynthesis. In Encyclopedia of Biological Chemistry, 3rd Ed., J Jez, Ed., Elsevier, pp 150-156. (IR)

    Higgins JS, Lloyd LT, Sohail SH, Allodi MA, Otto JP, Saer RG, Wood RE, Massey SC, Ting P-C, Blankenship RE and Engel GS (2021) Photosynthesis tunes quantum mechanical mixing of electronic and vibrational states to steer exciton energy transfer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 118: e2018240118.

    Sparks WB, Parenteau MN, Blankenship RE, Germer TA, Patty CHL, Bott KM, Telesco CM and Meadows VS (2021) Spectropolarimetry of primitive phototrophs as global surface biosignatures. Astrobiology 21: 219-234.

    Liu H, Zhang MM, Weisz DA, Cheng M, Pakrasi HB and Blankenship RE (2021) Structure of cyanobacterial phycobilisome core revealed by structural modeling and chemical cross-linking. Science Advances 7: eaba5743.

    Sonani RR, Roszak AW, Liu H, Gross ML, Blankenship RE, Madamwar D and Cogdell RJ (2020) Revisiting high resolution crystal structure of Phormidium rubidum phycocyanin assisted by using mass spectrometry. Photosynthesis Research 144: 349-360.

    Shi Y, Xin Y, Wang C, Tang W, Blankenship RE, Sun F and Xu X (2020) 3.3 Å cryo-EM structure of the photosynthetic Alternative Complex III from Roseiflexus castenholzii reveals a redox-coupled proton translocation mechanism. Science Advances 6: eaba2739.

    Dewey ED, Stokes LM, Burchell BM, Shaffer KN, Huntington AM, Baker JM, Nadendla S, Giglio MG, Bender KS, Touchman JW, Blankenship RE, Madigan MT and Sattley WM (2020) Analysis of the complete genome of the alkaliphilic and phototrophic Firmicute Heliorestis convoluta strain HHT. Microorganisms 8: 313.

    Lou W, Niedzwiedzki DM, Blankenship RE and Liu H (2020) Binding of red form of the orange carotenoid protein to phycobilisome is not sufficient for its function—Evidence of a third state of OCP in cyanobacterial non-photochemical quenching. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1861: 148155.

    Ho M-Y, Niedzwiedzki DM, MacGregor-Chatwin C, Gerstenecker G, Hunter CN, Blankenship RE and Bryant DA (2020) Extensive remodeling of the photosynthetic apparatus alters energy transfer among photosynthetic complexes when cyanobacteria acclimate to far-red light. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1861: 148064.