David R. Benson

David R Benson
  • Associate Professor
  • Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies
  • REU Program Director

Contact Info

3142B GL (ISB)
1567 Irving Hill Rd
Lawrence, KS 66045


B.S., Pennsylvania State University, 1985
Ph.D., University of California, 1990, Los Angeles
National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley,


Undergraduate Research Program Poster

The chemistry and biochemistry of heme proteins.

Heme is an iron-containing macrocycle that is an integral component of many proteins in bacteria, plants and animals. It is the part of hemoglobin that gives blood its red color. Heme proteins participate in a wide array of biological processes, including transport and storage of dioxygen (hemoglobin and myoglobin, respectively), electron transport (b and c cytochromes), breakdown of hydrogen peroxide (peroxidases and catalases), and hydrocarbon oxidation (cytochrome P450).

Several recently discovered heme proteins function as sensors for small molecules such as CO and O2.Part of our group’s research effort is directed toward design and synthesis of molecules that contain structural features common to these heme proteins, but which are smaller and therefore easier to study. We have adopted a multidisciplinary chemical approach to investigate how changes introduced into these model compounds influence their structure and function, in order that we may better understand how nature has fine-tuned the corresponding natural proteins to carry out their roles with remarkably high efficiency and specificity.

Our studies of model heme proteins are complemented by investigations of their natural counterparts, projects which provide students with the opportunity to also learn some basic techniques of biochemistry and molecular biology.An example is cytochrome b5, an electron transfer protein found in animals and plants.

Selected Publications

Cowley, A. B.; Benson, D. R. “Weak-field Anions Displace the Histidine Ligand in a Synthetic Heme Peptide, but not in N-Acetylmicroperoxidase-8: Possible Role of Heme Geometry Differences” Inorg. Chem. 2007, 46, 48-59.

Wang, L.; Cowley, A. B.; Terzyan, S.; Zhang, X.; Benson, D.R. “Comparison of Cytochromes b5 From Insects and Vertebrates.” Proteins: Struct. Funct. Bioinformat. 2007, 67, 293-304.

Cowley, A. B.; Kennedy, M. L.; Silchenko, S.; Lukat-Rodgers, G.; Rodgers, K.R.; Benson, D.R. “Insight into Heme Protein Redox Potential Control and Functional Aspects of Six-Coordinate Ligand-Sensing Heme Proteins from Studies of Synthetic Heme Peptides” Inorg. Chem. 2006, 45, 9985-10001.

Wang, L.; Sun, N.; Terzyan, S.; Zhang, X.; Benson, D.R. “A Histidine/Tryptophan π-Stacking Interaction Stabilizes the Heme-Independent Folding Core of Microsomal Apocytochrome b5 Relative to that of Mitochondrial Apocytochrome b5” Biochemistry 2006, 45, 13750-13759.

Cowley, A.B.; Sun, N.; Rivera, M.; Benson, D.R. “Divergence in Non-Specific Hydrophobic Packing Interactions in the Apo State, and its Possible Role in Functional Specialization of Mitochondrial and Microsomal Cytochrome b5” Biochemistry 2005, 44, 14606-14615.