Biochemistry at UST

Biochemistry is an interdisciplinary major that draws upon faculty and courses in the departments of Biology and Chemistry. The major is administered by a committee of representatives from both departments and is designed to train students to solve complex problems associated with understanding the structure and function of biological molecules in the context of living systems. Students who fulfill the requirements will receive a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Biochemistry. The program is appropriate for students pursuing graduate studies in biochemistry, medicine, or related fields. The major is also suitable for students interested in positions in the field of biotechnology after graduation.

Molecule of the Month

Carotinoid pigment found in plants

Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment found in plants.  It is a component of the xanthophyll cycle, during which the pigment violaxanthin is converted, in a two step de-epoxidation reaction, into zeaxanthin.  This conversion takes place in high light conditions, and zeaxanthin functions to facilitate the dissipation of excess light absorbed by plants.  Zeaxanthin is converted back into violaxanthin in low light and dark conditions, when dissipation is no longer needed.  Zeaxanthin is considered to be a photoprotective pigment, as it protects plants from the harmful effects of excess light by dissipating this energy.  Interestingly, zeaxanthin also accumulates in the retina of the human eye where it may have similar photoprotective functions, although thishas not been demonstrated at this point.  Research on zeaxanthin is being conducted in Dr. Verhoeven’s lab, where it has been shown that zeaxanthin increases in plants under stressful environments.

Verhoeven A., Osmolak A., Morales P., Crow J., (2009) Seasonal changes in abundance and phosphorylation status of photosynthetic proteins in eastern white pine and balsam fir.  Tree Physiology 29:362-374.