Robert P. Donaldson

Robert P. Donaldson

Professor of Biology
Bell Hall 101A
Phone: 202-994-6094


Lab phone: 202-994-6931

Professor Donaldson is also Director of the GW Howard Hughes Medical Institute for Undergraduate Education in Computational Molecular Biology. He specializes in oxidtions in perosizomes.

Areas of Expertise

Cell and molecular biology, plant biochemistry; proteins of glyoxysomal (peroxisomal) membranes; electron transport; peroxisomal targeting sequence receptor; iron reduction.

Current Research

Peroxisomes are subcellular compartments that house oxidations that produce hydrogen peroxide. This occurs in most eukaryotic organisms including yeasts, plants and animals. Peroxisomes in yeast allow them to metabolize hydrocarbons and methanol. Their two main functions in plants are photorespiration in leaves and the conversion of oils to sugars in germinating seeds. In humans peroxisomes are responsible for the oxidation of certain dietary hydrocarbons and several human diseases result from genetic defects in peroxisomal function. We are investigating the consequences of the oxidative processes that occur in peroxisomes, using germinating castor bean (Ricinus communis) as a model system for our biochemical studies.

The oxidation of fatty acids in peroxisomes creates superoxide and hydroxyl radicals as well as hydrogen peroxide. All of these Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) can damage proteins and nucleic acids in cells. This damage is prevented to some extent by enzymes within peroxisomes such as superoxide dismutase, catalase, ascorbate peroxidase, and thioredoxin peroxidase that scavenge and detoxify the ROS. Graduate students in the laboratory have been investigating the protective functions of some of these enzymes. For example, Tulin Olcum-Yanik, who completed her PhD in 2002, investigated the idea that catalase is physically associated with another protein that is contained in peroxisomes in a way that shields that protein from oxidative damage by hydrogen peroxide. Dina Karyotou’s PhD project concerned ascorbate peroxidase that is associated with the peroxisomal membrane and can scavenge smaller concentrations of hydrogen peroxide than catalase. This peroxidase is situated to prevent the escape of hydrogen peroxide from the peroxisome.

Currently, Mimi Kwak an MS student and Thy Nguyen an undergraduate are working on the oxidative damage of proteins within peroxisomes. We have devised ways to detect the extent of oxidation of individual proteins and to determine how this damage affects the functions of the proteins. The hypothesis under consideration is that proteins contained within peroxisomes are resistant to oxidation and retain functions despite oxidative damage. Protein oxidation is of broad significance in biology because it is thought to be one of the main consequences of aging. Thus, controlling oxidation can prolong the life and health of an organism.


B.A., Biology, University of Texas, 1964
M.S., Botany, Miami University, OH, 1966
Ph.D., Biochemistry, Michigan State University, MI, 1971


Nguyen A.T., Donaldson R.P. 2005. Metal-catalyzed oxidation induces carbonylation of peroxisomal proteins and loss of enzymatic activities. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2005 Jul 1;439(1): 25-31.

Yanik T., Donaldson R.P. 2005 A protective association between catalase and isocitrate lyase in peroxisomes. Arch Biochem Biophys. 435(2): 243-52.

Karyotou K., Donaldson R.P. 2005. Ascorbate peroxidase, a scavenger of hydrogen peroxide in glyoxysomal membranes. Arch Biochem Biophys. Feb 15;434(2): 248-57.

Donaldson R.P. 2002 Peroxisomal membrane proteins. In: A Baker and IA Grahm, eds, Plant peroxisomes, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 259-278.

Donaldson R.P., Karyotou K., Assadi M., Olcum T. 2000. Peroxisomes and glyoxysomes in plants. Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. Internet publication of Nature/McMillan Press.

Wolins N.E., Donaldson R.P. 1997. Binding of the peroxisomal protein targeting sequence SKL is specified by a low-affinity site in castor bean glyoxysomal membranes. A domain next to the SKL binds to a high-affinity site. Plant Physiol. 113: 943-949.

Del Rio L.A., Donaldson R.P. 1995. Production of superoxide radicals in glyoxysomal membranes from castor bean endosperm. J. Plant Physiol. 146:283-287.

Wolins N.E., Donaldson R.P. 1994. Specific binding of the peroxisomal protein targeting sequence to glyoxysomal membranes. J. Biol. Chem. 269: 1149-1153.

Donaldson R.P., Luster D.G. 1991. Multiple forms of plant cytochromes P-450. Plant Physiol. 96: 669-674.

Alani A.A., Luster D.G., Donaldson, R.P. 1991. Development of ER and glyoxysomal membrane redox activities during castor bean germination. Plant Physiol. 94: 1842-1848.

Lyons H.T., Kharroubi A., Wolins N., Tenner S., Chanderbhan R.F., Fiskum G., Donaldson R.P. 1991. Elevated cholesterol and decreased sterol carrier protein-2 in peroxisomes from AS-30D hepatoma compared to normal rat liver. Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 285: 238-245.

Bowditch M.I., Donaldson R.P. 1990. Ascorbate free radical reduction by glyoxysomal membranes. Plant Physiol 94; 531-537.

Mangurian L.P., R.P. Donaldson. 1989 Development of peroxisomal beta-oxidation enzymes in brown adipose tissue of perinatal rabbits. Biology of the Neonate 57: 349-357.

Classes Taught

BISC 1005 - The Biology of Nutrition and Health 
BISC 1111 - Introductory Biology: Cell and Molecules
BISC 105 - Plant Biochemistry
BISC 2583 - Biology of Proteins
BISC 3263 - Special Topics in Biochemistry
BMSC 8210 - Biomedical Science Core: Macromolecular Interactions – Proteins (Course Bulletin not up yet)
CS 3571 - Introduction to Bioinformatics
Computational Molecular Biology Workshop