Research Article

Structure of a symmetric photosynthetic reaction center–photosystem

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Science  08 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6355, pp. 1021-1025
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5611

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A homodimeric complex for anaerobic photosynthesis

In plants, algae, and cyanobacteria, large molecular complexes—photosystems I and II—convert light energy into chemical energy, releasing oxygen as a by-product. This oxygenic photosynthesis is critical for maintaining Earth's atmospheric oxygen. At their cores, photosystems I and II contain a heterodimeric reaction center. Reaction centers evolved in an atmosphere lacking oxygen, and the ancestral complex was likely homodimeric, encoded by a single gene. Gisriel et al. describe the structure of a homodimeric reaction center from an anoxygenic photosynthetic bacterium. The structure shows perfect symmetry of the light-collecting antennae and elucidates the electron transfer chain.

Science, this issue p. 1021


Reaction centers are pigment-protein complexes that drive photosynthesis by converting light into chemical energy. It is believed that they arose once from a homodimeric protein. The symmetry of a homodimer is broken in heterodimeric reaction-center structures, such as those reported previously. The 2.2-angstrom resolution x-ray structure of the homodimeric reaction center–photosystem from the phototroph Heliobacterium modesticaldum exhibits perfect C2 symmetry. The core polypeptide dimer and two small subunits coordinate 54 bacteriochlorophylls and 2 carotenoids that capture and transfer energy to the electron transfer chain at the center, which performs charge separation and consists of 6 (bacterio)chlorophylls and an iron-sulfur cluster; unlike other reaction centers, it lacks a bound quinone. This structure preserves characteristics of the ancestral reaction center, providing insight into the evolution of photosynthesis.

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