Photosynthesis Mystery Unraveled

Solar energy has always been providing plants with surviving strength for many millions of years.

Photosynthesis Mystery Unraveled

Photosynthesis Mystery Unraveled.


Solar energy has always been providing plants with surviving strength for many millions of years.

Researchers believe that some others like algae and photosynthetic bacteria are also getting the initial strength from the sun's energy for a more extended period. They do this with much resiliency and efficiency.

It was always a mystery for scientists to know how they do that. As the experts know this now, they will be able to use this new finding in modifying human-made technologies like sensors and solar panels. 

Recently, the mystery of plants' using solar energy has been solved by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory scientists. Scholars from Washington University in St. Louis worked with them as well. The process of light capturing by the photosynthetic proteins are both initial and ultrafast. Researchers considered both of them to understand how the plants use this light to begin the reactions of electron transfer by maintaining a series.

Philip Laible, a biophysicist from Argonne, says, "In order to understand how biology fuels all of its engrained activities, you must understand electron transfer. The movement of electrons is crucial: it's how work is accomplished inside a cell."

There are localized pigments in photosynthetic organisms. The processes start when the pigments absorb light's photon. 

The cell includes specialized compartments within it. A membrane comprises all the chambers. Each photon propels an electron across this.

Deborah Hanson, a biochemist from Argonne, says, "The separation of charge across a membrane -- and stabilization of it -- is critical as it generates energy that fuels cell growth."

The electron's journey is one of the primary steps of this process. The combined research team from Washington University and the Argonne got an important perception in this initial process during their research.

It is 35 years ago when scientists were capable of revealing the first structure of these types of complexes. But they were surprised to find out the electron transfer processes did not run smoothly after light absorption. The dilemma caused as the electrons chose either of the two possible ways. It was evident in the cases of plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. But why this happens, scientists did not know. 

They only knew that the journey of the electron in the membrane follows multiple steps. The propulsion of the electron is very useful for harvesting photon's energy.

For changing the electron's pathway, scientists from Argonne and Washington University have been successful in interfering with each one of them.

A Washington University chemist, Dewey Holten says, "We've been on this trail for more than three decades, and it is a great accomplishment that opens up many opportunities."

A recent article by the scientists is "Switching sides -- Reengineered primary charge separation in the bacterial photosynthetic reaction centre." The National Academy of Sciences published this research paper. This study informs us of the latest version of this protein complex which has pathway switching capacity. It means this version can enable the inactive one and disable the remaining one.  

Christine Kirmaier is the project leader and a chemist from Washington University. She says, "It is remarkable that we have managed to switch the direction of initial electron transfer. In nature, the electron chose one path 100 percent of the time. But through our efforts, we have been able to make the electron switch to an alternate path 90 percent of the time. These discoveries pose exciting questions for future research."

All these efforts have brought scientists one step ahead in designing electron transfer systems capable of sending an electron down a pathway according to their choice.

Laible says, "This is important because we are gaining the ability to harness the flow of energy to understand design principles that will lead to new applications of abiotic systems. This would allow us to greatly improve the efficiency of many solar-powered devices, potentially making them far smaller. We have a tremendous opportunity here to open up completely new disciplines of light-driven biochemical reactions, ones that haven't been envisioned by nature. If we can do that, that's huge."