Making the oxygen we breathe, a photosynthesis mechanism exposed

ScienceDaily | 6/11/2018 | Staff
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Though chlorophyll is the best-known part, for the vivid green it colors nature, many compounds work together in photosynthesis. And Georgia Tech chemists devised clever experiments to inspect players intimately involved in the release of O2 from water in what's known as photosystem II (PSII).

PSII is a complex protein structure found in plants and algae. It has a counterpart called photosystem I, an equally complex light-powered producer of oxygen and biomaterials.

Questions - Answers - Researchers - Findings - Metal

Some questions and answers below will help elucidate the researchers' findings about a small metal catalyst and an amino acid inside PSII that work hand-in-glove to produce O2.

"Photosynthesis in plants and algae can be compared to an artificial solar cell," said principal investigator Bridgette Barry, who is a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "But, in photosynthesis, light energy fuels the production of food (carbohydrates) instead of charging a battery. O2 is released from water as a byproduct."

Barry - Author - Zhanjun - Guo - Jiayuan

Barry, first author Zhanjun Guo, and researcher Jiayuan He published their research on May 11, 2018, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their work was funded by the National Science Foundation.

How does photosynthesis II release oxygen from water?

Details - Workings

Many details are still unknown, but here are some basic workings.

PS II is a biochemical complex made mostly of large amino acid corkscrew cylinders and some smaller such cylinders strung together with amino acid strands. The reaction cycle that extracts the O2 from H2O occurs at a tiny spot, which the study focused on.

Scale - PSII - Building - Spot - Size

For scale, if PSII were a fairly tall, very wide building, the spot might be the size of a large door in about the lower center of the building, and the metal cluster would be located there. Intertwined in the proteins would be sprawling molecules that include beta-carotene and chlorophyll, a great natural photoelectric semiconductor.

"Photons from...
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