Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Penn State Science
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John Golbeck

John Golbeck

Main Content

  • Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Professor of Chemistry
328 South Frear Laboratory
Phone: (814) 865-1163

Research Interests

Biophysical studies of electron transfer mechanisms in photosynthetic prokaryotes

Graduate Programs


Research Summary

Research in Photosynthesis

Sunlight is the ultimate source of energy for most organisms on Earth. In plants, algae and cyanobacteria, the energy of light is used to synthesize carbohydrates from CO2, resulting in the byproduct of atmospheric O2. My research group focuses on the study of Type I (iron-sulfur) reaction centers, including Photosystem I of cyanobacteria (Figure 1.1) and plants, and the reaction centers of the strictly anaerobic heliobacteria and green sulfur bacteria. My students and I work to uncover the genes, polypeptides, and cofactors that are involved in the structure, function, and assembly of Type I reaction centers. To accomplish these goals, we employ molecular biological techniques such as site-directed mutagenesis and secondary suppressor screening, biochemical techniques such as resolution and reconstitution of proteins and cofactors, and biophysical techniques such as magnetic resonance spectroscopy and time-resolved optical spectroscopy.


View form the stromal surface of the Photosytem I trimer from Thermosynechococcus elongatus
Figure 1.1. View form the stromal surface of the Photosytem I trimer from Thermosynechococcus elongatus.  Figure from  P. Jordan, Ph.D. thesis, Berlin.

Why Study Photosynthesis?
The world’s dependence on fossil fuels for energy is fraught with a variety of environmental, social and political problems. Looming over the horizon is the eventual depletion of the inexpensive oil and natural gas that currently powers the world’s economy. The already-noticeable onset of global warming caused by the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane threatens the world’s climate (Figure 1.2). The solution to the energy problem is to construct an economy based on hydrogen as a primary fuel. Unlike the combustion of fossil fuels, which produces carbon dioxide, the combustion of hydrogen produces only water as byproduct.



View of world map with a green color depicting the portion of the Earth's land surface that supports oxygenic photosynthesis.
Figure 1.2. The green color depicts the portion of the Earth's
land surface that supports oxygenic photosynthesis.

The trick is to synthesize hydrogen without using fossil fuels as an intermediate; i.e. directly with the use of solar, wind or tidal power. The product of Photosystem I is NADPH, a molecule with about the same standard free energy of combustion as hydrogen. Work in my laboratory is aimed ultimately at modifying the acceptor system of Photosystem I so that the product is H2 rather than the biological reductant NADPH.

If you would like to learn more about the light reactions of photosynthesis and especially Photosystem I, I have written a chapter called “Photosynthetic Electron Transfer: So Little Time, So Much to Do” for ‘Biophysics Textbook On Line.

Search the MEDLINE database at PubMed for articles by J Golbeck

Selected Publications

Golbeck (ed) 2006, 'Photosystem I: The Light-Driven Plastocyanin: Ferredoxin Oxidoreductase,' Springer, Dordrecht.

Golbeck, J. H. (2003) "Photosystem I" in Bioenergetics volume of Biophysics Textbook On Line, published by the American Biophysical Society (

Research Articles

  • Karyagina, I., Pushkar, Y. N., Stehlik, D., Wyndhamm, I., van der Est, A., Ishikita, H., Jaganathan, B., Agaralov, R., and Golbeck, J. H. (2007) Protein-Cofactor Interactions in Photosystem I. Contribution of the Distant Protein Environment to the Midpoint Potentials of the A1A and A1B Phylloquinones and the Fx Iron-Sulfur Cluster J. Biol. Chem., (in review).
  • Stehlik, D., Salikhov, K., and Golbeck J. H.(2007) Quantum Teleportation across a Biological Membrane by means of Correlated Spin Pair Dynamics in Photosynthetic Reaction Centers Appl. Magn. Reson. (in review).
  • Antonkine, M., Maes, E., Czernuszewicz, R., Breitenstein, C., Bill, E., Falzone, C., Balasubramanian, R., Yang, F., Bryant, D. A., and Golbeck J. (2007) Chemical Rescue of a Site-Modified Ligand to a [4Fe-4S] Cluster in PsaC, a Bacerial-like Dicluster Ferredoxin. J. Biol. Inorg. Chem. (in review).
  • Heinnickel, M., Agalarov, R., Shen, G., and Golbeck, J. H. (2007) Identification of the pshB gene Encoding the Protein that Harbors Two [4Fe-4S] clusters That Function as the Terminal Electron Acceptors FA and FB in Heliobacterium modedescaldum. Biochemistry (in press).
  • Karyagina, I., Golbeck, J. H., Srinivasan, N., Stehlik, D., and Zimmermann, H. (2007) "Single-Sided Hydrogen-Bonding to the Quinone Cofactor in Photosystem I Probed by Selective 13C-Laballed Naphthoquinones and Transient EPR" Appl. Mag. Res. (in press).
  • Antokine, M., and Golbeck, J. H. (2006) Molecular Interactions of the Stromal Subunit PsaC with the PsaA/PsaB Heterodimer, in Photosystem I: The Light- The Light-Driven Plastocyanin (Cytochrome c6):Ferredoxin (Flavodoxin) Oxidoreductase (Golbeck, J. H., Ed.) pp 79-98, Springer, Dordrecht.
  • Shen, G., and Golbeck, J. H. (2006) Assembly of the Bound Iron-Sulfur Clusters in Photosystem I, in Photosystem I: The Light-Driven Plastocyanin (Cytochrome c6):Ferredoxin (Flavodoxin) Oxidoreductase (Golbeck, J. H., Ed.) pp 529-547, Springer, Dordrecht.
  • Heinnickel, M., Agalarov, R., Svensen, N., Krebs, C. and Golbeck J. H. (2006) "Identification of FX in the Heliobacterial Reaction Center as a [4Fe-4S] Cluster with an S = 3/2 Ground Spin State" Biochemistry. 45, 6756-6764.
  • Balasubramanian, R., Shen, G., Bryant D. A. and Golbeck J.H. (2006) "Regulatory Roles for IscA and SufA in Iron and Oxygen Homeostasis and Redox Stress Responses in the Cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002", J. Bact. 188, 3182-3191.
  • Ishikita, H., Stehlik, D., Golbeck, J. H. and Knappe, E-W. (2006) "Electrostatic Influence of PsaC Protein Binding to the PsaA/PsaB Heterodimer in Photosystem I" Biophys. J. 90, 1081-1089.