Photochemistry beyond the red limit in chlorophyll f–containing photosystems

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Science  15 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6394, pp. 1210-1213
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8313

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Lower-energy photons do the work, too

Plants and cyanobacteria use chlorophyll-rich photosystem complexes to convert light energy into chemical energy. Some organisms have developed adaptations to take advantage of longer-wavelength photons. Nürnberg et al. studied photosystem complexes from cyanobacteria grown in the presence of far-red light. The authors identified the primary donor chlorophyll as one of a few chlorophyll molecules in the far-red light–adapted enzymes that were chemically altered to shift their absorption spectrum. Kinetic measurements demonstrated that far-red light is capable of directly driving water oxidation, despite having less energy than the red light used by most photosynthetic organisms.

Science, this issue p. 1210


Photosystems I and II convert solar energy into the chemical energy that powers life. Chlorophyll a photochemistry, using red light (680 to 700 nm), is near universal and is considered to define the energy “red limit” of oxygenic photosynthesis. We present biophysical studies on the photosystems from a cyanobacterium grown in far-red light (750 nm). The few long-wavelength chlorophylls present are well resolved from each other and from the majority pigment, chlorophyll a. Charge separation in photosystem I and II uses chlorophyll f at 745 nm and chlorophyll f (or d) at 727 nm, respectively. Each photosystem has a few even longer-wavelength chlorophylls f that collect light and pass excitation energy uphill to the photochemically active pigments. These photosystems function beyond the red limit using far-red pigments in only a few key positions.

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