The Institute of Biological Chemistry (IBC) was established at Washington State University in 1980 to pursue fundamental research in the molecular biology and biochemistry of plants. Work at the IBC focuses on basic plant science with an emphasis on plant derived products synthesis, determinants of plant architecture, bioenergetics, and plant-microbe interacts. The research outcomes have potential applications in agricultural biotechnology, bioenergy, and medicine.

For more information about specific research programs in the IBC, please call us at (509) 335-8382, fax to (509) 335-7643 or email us at instbiolchem@wsu.edu.

IBC News and Updates


Dr. Helmut Kirchhoff recently published a journal article on photosynthetic membranes in Nature Plants.

Dr. Kirchhoff—who wrote the article with a former IBC post-doctoral scholar, Sujith Puthiyaveetil, now assistant professor at Purdue, and Bart van Oort, faculty at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam—explores molecular forces that control the structure of energy converting photosynthetic membranes. This research helps to understand how complex structured membranes self-organize and react to environmental dynamics that allows plants to thrive in an ever-changing nature.


Designing Healthy Vegetable Oils

Saturated fat and particularly trans fat in the US diet are serious health risks, responsible for more than 50,000 excess deaths each year.  Dr. John Browse, Regents’ Professor, has been awarded a three-year research grant from USDA-NIFA to alter metabolism in oilseed crops to reduce the levels of saturated and trans fats. Describing the goal of the project, Dr. Browse says, “Our discoveries in the model plant, Arabidopsis, have provided the knowledge needed to improve the composition of processed food oils. Now, we will be able to find out just how far we can go towards eliminating these undesirable saturated and trans fats”.


Dr. John Peters has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 

Election as an AAAS Fellow is a distinction bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers, in recognition of scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science and its applications. AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org). 

Dr. Peters’ work examines energy conservation at the molecular level and how life generates energy from food by shearing off electrons. (Full Article)


 Dr. Andrei Smertenko was awarded a NSF-CAREER grant to study cellular advances that enabled colonization of land by plants. The transition of plants from a marine to a terrestrial environment would be impossible without vascular tissues. Plant vascular cells are produced through divisions that span the longest cell axis and can reach 1 mm in length. These super-long divisions are possible because a plant-specific division machine, the ‘phragmoplast’, has the ability to expand directionally.  Dr. Smertenko will use a combination of experimental and modeling techniques to understand phragmoplast expansion. A deeper understanding of cell division mechanisms would facilitate the breeding of trees with faster growth and higher production of wood.


Most children have a phase where they dream of the far reaches of the universe and working for NASA. Dr. Norman Lewis participated in a NASA outreach project that enabled seventh grade students at McCaffrey Middle School to participate in a project to begin to reveal how biology changes away from Earth’s gravity (Full Article).



Professor John Peters delivered an invited lecture in the opening plenary session at Plant Biology 2017, held in Honolulu, Hawaii, June 2017, at the Hawaii Convention Center.  Professor Peters talk was entitled, “Innovative Solutions for Increasing the Impact of Biological Nitrogen Fixation on Crop Plants”. The annual plant biology meeting is hosted by the American Society for Plant Biologist (ASPB) and has been held for over eight decades and currently attracts more than 1,300 scientists from 40 countries.


The Kirchhoff lab published a paper recently entitled Sublocalization of cytochrome b6f complexes in photosynthetic membranes in Trends in Plant Sciences that presents a structural model that explains the variation in cytochrome b6f sublocalization data. They have been able to show that small changes in the distance between adjacent membranes in stacked grana regions either allow or restrict access of cytochrome b6f complexes to grana. If the width of the gap falls below a certain threshold, then the steric hindrance prevents cytochrome b6f access to grana. Evidence is presented that the width of stromal gap is variable, demonstrating that the postulated mechanism can regulate the lateral distribution of the cytochrome b6f complexes.


Professor Mark Lange assumes the presidency of the Phytochemical Society of North America (PSNA) in August 2017.  PSNA is a nonprofit scientific organization whose membership is open to anyone with an interest in phytochemistry and the role of plant substances in related fields. The PSNA’s mission is to encourage and stimulate research on the chemistry and biochemistry of plant constituents, their effects upon plant and animal physiology and pathology, and their industrial importance and utilization.


Drought-Resistant Wheat, Soybeans WSU’s Aim in USDA Grant Research
PULLMAN, Wash. – Researchers at Washington State University seek to improve drought-resistant crops, thanks to more than $900,000 in funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The two projects at WSU were among 54 grants awarded for plant research, totaling more than $17 million, announced May 25 by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program.

President’s Leadership Winners Honored for Mentorship, Volunteerism
Mentors, volunteers and leaders in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences have earned recognition for how they change the world and help their community.

Eleven CAHNRS staff and faculty members, undergraduates and graduate students were presented with the Leadership and Engagement Award of Distinction (LEAD) from the President of Washington State University, April 18 at Pullman’s Compton Union Building.

Presented jointly by the WSU Center for Civic Engagement and the Office of Student Involvement, the President’s Award for Leadership and Engagement honors people who show exceptional service, involvement, mentoring, leadership and social change in the university and their community.

Two from CAHNRS received Faculty and Staff awards: Marwa Sanad, research associate in the Institute of Biological Chemistry (IBC), and Debbie Christel, assistant professor in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles (AMDT).

Scientists Discover New Method to Harness Energy
PULLMAN, Wash. – A Washington State University professor is part of a team that has unraveled the mechanism of a process that couples chemical reactions in a unique way that conserves energy and prevents loss. The process – which maximizes the efficiency of chemical reactions at the molecular level – could affect everything from synthetic biology to fuel and chemical production.

Tree Growth Model Assists Breeding for More Wood
PULLMAN, Wash. – A meeting in a forest between a biologist and a mathematician could lead to thicker, faster growing trees.

“Mathematicians like translating biological processes into numbers,” said Andrei Smertenko, assistant professor in Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry. “I’m a biologist, and I want to help grow stronger, better trees.”

Understanding Energy for More Efficient Agriculture
PULLMAN, Wash. – When you eat lunch, you might be thinking about work but probably just are enjoying the taste. John Peters is thinking about metabolism in the context of agriculture and energy.

Peters is the new director of the Institute of Biological Chemistry (IBC) at Washington State University and a renowned biochemist who wants to know how energy is produced at a fundamental level.

WSU Grant Will Help Fight Devastating Citrus Disease
PULLMAN, Wash. – Three Washington State University researchers have received a $2.1 million grant to help save the U.S. and global citrus industry. They will develop methods of growing a citrus-destroying bacteria so that strategies to fight the disease it causes can be pursued.

Huánglóngbìng, or HLB, is also called “citrus greening disease,” and it is destroying orange, grapefruit and lemon trees around the world. Scientists haven’t been able to grow and maintain cultures of the bacterium that causes the disease.

“The simple answers didn’t work and we need a way to fight this,” said biochemist David Gang, a fellow in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry.

Dr. John W. Peters
Professor and Director

Helen Miller
Administrative Manager

Teresa Beckvold
Principal Assistant

Julie Thayer
Greenhouse Manager