Robert Blankenship

​Professor of Biology and Chemistry
Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor in Arts and Sciences
PhD, University of California, Berkeley
BS, Nebraska Wesleyan University

contact info:

mailing address:

  • CB 1137
  • ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899
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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 2017-2018

Khadka B, Adeolu M, Blankenship RE and Gupta RS (2017) Novel insights into the origin of photosynthetic reaction centers I and II based on conserved indels in the core proteins. Photosynthesis Research 131: 159-171.

Zhang H, Harrington LB, Lu Y, Prado M, Saer R, Rempel D, Blankenship RE and Gross ML (2017) Native mass spectrometry characterizes the photosynthetic reaction center complex from the purple bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides. Journal American Society of Mass Spectrometry 28: 87-95.

Mendez DL, Babbitt SE, King J, D’Alessandro J, Blankenship RE, Mirica LM, Kranz RG (2017) Engineered holocytochrome csynthases that biosynthesize new cytochromes c. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 114: 2235-2240.

Lu Y, Liu H, Saer R, Zhang H, Meyer C, Li VL, Shi L, King JD, Gross ML, Blankenship RE (2017) Native mass spectrometry analysis of oligomerization states of FRP and OCP: two proteins involved in the cyanobacterial photoprotection cycle. Biochemistry 56: 160-166.

Andreoni A, Lin S, Liu H, Blankenship RE, Yan H and Woodbury NW (2017) OCP as a control element in an antenna system based on a DNA nanostructure. Nano Letters 17: 1174-1180.

Saer RG, Stadnytskyi V, Magdaong NC, Goodson C, Savikhin S and Blankenship RE (2017) Probing the excitonic landscape of Chlorobaculum tepidum Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) antenna complex through site-directed mutagenesis. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1858: 288-296.

Baker J, Riester CJ, Skinner B, Newell A, Swingley WD, Madigan MT, Jung D, Asao M, Chen M,  Loughlin P, Pan H, Lin S, Li N, Shaw J, Prado M, Sherman C, Tang J, Blankenship RE, Zhao T, Lu Y-K, Touchman JW, and Sattley WM (2017) Draft genome sequence of Rhodoferax antarcticus ABT, a psychrophilic purple nonsulfur bacterium from an Antarctic microbial mat. Microorganisms5(1): 8  16 pps.  doi:10.3390/microorganisms5010008

Magdaong NCM, Saer RG, Niedzwiedzki DM and Blankenship RE (2017) Ultrafast spectroscopic investigation of energy transfer in site-directed mutants of Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) complex from Chlorobaculum tepidum. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 121: 4700−4712.

Lu Y, Liu H, Saer R, Li VL, Zhang H, Shi L, Goodson C, Gross ML, and Blankenship RE (2017) A molecular mechanism for non-photochemical quenching in cyanobacteria. Biochemistry 56: 2812-2823.

Blankenship RE (2017) How cyanobacteria went green. Science 355: 1372-1373.

Saer R and Blankenship RE (2017) Light-harvesting in phototrophic bacteria: structure and function. Biochemical Journal 474: 2107-2131.

Orf GS, Collins AM, Niedzwiedzki DM, Tank M, Thiel V, Kell A, Bryant DA, Montaño G and Blankenship RE (2017) Polymer-chlorosome nanocomposites consisting of nonnative combinations of self-assembling bacteriochlorophyll. Langmuir 33: 6427-6438.

Niedzwiedzki DM, Swainsbury DJK, Martin EC, Hunter CN and Blankenship RE (2017) Investigating the nature of the S*-excited state feature of carotenoids in light harvesting complex 1 from purple photosynthetic bacteria. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 121: 7571-7585.

Valleau S, Stüder R, Häse F, Kreisbeck C, Saer R, Blankenship RE, Shaknovicha E, and Aspuru-Guzik A (2017) Evolutionary study and ancestral reconstruction of the Fenna-Matthews-Olson complex. ACS Central Science 3: 1086-1095.

Majumder EL-W, Wolf BM, Liu H, Berg RH, Timlin JA, Chen M and Robert E. Blankenship RE (2017) Subcellular pigment distribution is altered under far red light acclimation in cyanobacteria that contain chlorophyll f. Photosynthesis Research, 134: 183-192.

Khmelnitskiy A, Kell A, Reinot T, Saer RG, Blankenship RE and Jankowiak R (2018) Energy landscape of the intact and destabilized FMO antennas from C. tepidum and the L122Q mutant: Low temperature spectroscopy and modeling study. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1859: 165-173.

Wolf BM, Magdaong NM, Roth R, Goodenough U and Blankenship RE (2018) Characterization of a newly isolated freshwater Eustigmatophyte alga capable of utilizing far-red light as its sole light source. Photosynthesis Research 135: 177-189.

Liu H, Lu Y, Wolf BM, Saer R, Orf GS, King JD and Blankenship RE (2018) Photoactivation and relaxation studies on the cyanobacterial OCP in the presence of copper ion. Photosynthesis Research 135: 143-147.

Chen M and Blankenship RE (2018) Pigments: general properties and biosynthesis. In: Light Harvesting in Photosynthesis. Roberta Croce; Rienk van Grondelle; Herbert van Amerongen; Ivo van Stokkum, Eds. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp 3-20.

Maiuri M, Ostroumov EE, Saer RG, Blankenship RE and Scholes GD (2018) Coherent wavepackets in the FMO complex are robust to excitonic-structure perturbations by mutagenesis. Nature Chemistry 10:177-183.

Hernández-Prieto MA, Postier B, Blankenship RE and Chen M (2018) Far-red light promotes biofilm formation but not chlorophyll d biosynthesis in the cyanobacterium Acaryochloris marina. Environmental Microbiology 20: 535–545.

Allodi MA, Otto JP, Sohail SH, Saer RG, Wood RE, Rolczynski BS, Massey SC, Ting P-C, Blankenship RE and Engel GS (2018) ­­Reactive oxygen species affect ultrafast exciton transport in photosynthetic pigment-protein complexes. Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters 9: 89–95.

Magdaong NCM and Blankenship RE (2018) Photoprotective excited state quenching mechanisms in diverse photosynthetic organisms. Journal of Biological Chemistry 293: 5018-5025.