The Photosynthetic Unit of Hydrogen Evolution

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Science  20 May 1977:
Vol. 196, Issue 4292, pp. 879-880
DOI: 10.1126/science.196.4292.879


A study of the absolute photoproduction of hydrogen by autotrophically grown Chlorella vulgaris with single-turnover flashes of light indicates that (i) while the Emerson and Arnold photosynthetic unit has the value chlorophyll: oxygen ≈ 1700 : 1, the hydrogen analog of this unit has the value chlorophyll: hydrogen ≈ 1400 : 1, and (ii) whereas the yield of oxygen from dark-adapted algal cells is zero on the first flash and then undergoes damped oscillations of period 4 about the steady-state value, the corresponding yield of hydrogen is fixed at the steady-state value from the first flash onward. These observations suggest that in the molecular mechanism of photosynthetic hydrogen evolution (i) the light reaction is at least 60 percent as efficient as the corresponding oxygen evolution reaction as measured by the ability to utilize absorbed visible quanta, and (ii) there are no sequential, photoproduced, metastable intermediates as there are in the case of oxygen evolution. Therefore, a minimum of two reducing equivalents from two different photosystems must have access to a common pool in producing molecular hydrogen if these photosystems each produce one electron per single-turnover flash.