Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Anne-Frances Miller


A growing number of flavoprotein systems have been observed to bifurcate pairs of electrons. Flavin-based electron bifurcation (FBEB) results in products with greater reducing power than that of the reactants with less reducing power. Highly reducing electrons at low reduction midpoint potential are required for life processes of both aerobic and anaerobic metabolic processes. For electron bifurcation to function, the semiquinone (SQ) redox intermediate needs to be destabilized in the protein to suppress its ability to trap electrons. This dissertation examines SQ suppression across a number of flavin systems for the purpose of better understanding the nature of SQ suppression within FBEB and elucidates potential mechanistic roles of SQ.

The major achievement of this work is advancing the understanding of SQ suppression and its utility in flavoproteins with the capacity to bifurcate pairs of electrons. Much of these achievements are highlighted in Chapter 6. To contextualize these mechanistic studies, we examined the kinetic and thermodynamic properties of non-bifurcating flavoproteins (Chapters 2 and 3) as well as bifurcating flavoproteins (Chapters 4 and 5). Proteins were selected as models for SQ suppression with the aim of elucidating the role of an intermediate SQ in bifurcation.

The chemical reactions of flavins and those mediated by flavoproteins play critical roles in the bioenergetics of all lifeforms, both aerobic and anaerobic. We highlight our findings in the context of electron bifurcation, the recently discovered third form of biological energy conservation.

Bifurcating NADH-dependent ferredoxin-NADP+ oxidoreductase I (Nfn) and the non-bifurcating flavoproteins nitroreductase, NADH oxidase, and flavodoxin were studied by transient absorption spectroscopy to compare electron transfer rates and mechanisms in the picosecond range. Different mechanisms were found to dominate SQ decay in the different proteins, producing lifetimes ranging over 3 orders of magnitude. The presence of a short-lived SQ alone was found to be insufficient to infer bifurcating activity. We established a model wherein the short SQ lifetime in Nfn results from efficient electron propagation. Such mechanisms of SQ decay may be a general feature of redox active site ensembles able to carry out bifurcation.

We also investigated the proposed bifurcating electron transfer flavoprotein (Etf) from Pyrobaculum aerophilum (Pae), a hyperthermophilic archaeon. Unlike other Etfs, we observed a stable and strong charge transfer band (λmax= 724 nm) for Pae’s Etf upon reduction by NADH. Using a series of reductive titrations to probe bounds for the reduction midpoint potential of the two flavins, we argue that the heterodimer alone could participate in a bifurcation mechanism.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This work is supported as part of the Biological and Electron Transfer and Catalysis (BETCy) EFRC, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science (DE-SC0012518).