Cycles Of Seed Evolution
Cycles Of Seed Evolution

Cycles Of Seed Evolution

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  • Pages: 17 (8610 words)
  • Published: January 12, 2019
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The Basics.

Sunlight plays a much larger role in our sustenance than we may expect: all the food we eat and all the fossil fuel we use is a product of photosynthesis, which is the process that converts energy in sunlight to chemical forms of energy that can be used by biological systems. Photosynthesis is carried out by many different organisms, ranging from plants to bacteria (Figure 1). The best known form of photosynthesis is the one carried out by higher plants and algae, as well as by cyanobacteria and their relatives, which are responsible for a major part of photosynthesis in oceans. All these organisms convert CO2 (carbon dioxide) to organic material by reducing this gas to carbohydrates in a rather complex set of reactions. Electrons for this reduction reaction ultimately come from water, which is then converted to oxygen and protons. Energy for this process is provided by light, which is absorbed by pigments (primarily chlorophylls and carotenoids). Chlorophylls absorb blue and red light and carotenoids absorb blue-green light (Figure 2), but green and yellow light are not effectively absorbed by photosynthetic pigments in plants; therefore, light of these colors is either reflected by leaves or passes through the Other photosynthetic organisms, such as cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae) and red algae, have additional pigments called phycobilins that are red or blue and that absorb the colors of visible light that are not effectively absorbed by chlorophyll and carotenoids. Yet other organisms, such as the purple and green bacteria (which, by the way, look fairly brown under many growth conditions), contain bacteriochlorophyll that abso

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rbs in the infrared, in addition to in the blue part of the spectrum. These bacteria do not evolve oxygen, but perform photosynthesis under anaerobic (oxygen-less) conditions. These bacteria efficiently use infrared light for photosynthesis. Infrared is light with wavelengths above 700 nm that cannot be seen by the human eye; some bacterial species can use infrared light with wavelengths of up to 1000 nm. However, most pigments are not very effective in absorbing ultraviolet light (<400 nm), which also cannot be seen by the human eye. Light with wavelengths below 330 nm becomes increasingly damaging to cells, but virtually all light at these short wavelengths is filtered out by the atmosphere (most prominently the ozone layer) before reaching the earth. Even though most plants are capable of producing compounds that absorb ultraviolet light, an increased exposure to light around 300 nm has detrimental effects on plant productivity.

Reaction Centers and Antennae.

Photosynthetic pigments come in a huge variety: there are many different types of (bacterio)chlorophyll, carotenoids, and phycobilins, differing from each other in their precise chemical structure. Pigments generally are bound to proteins, which provide the pigment molecules with the appropriate orientation and positioning with respect to each other. Light energy is absorbed by individual pigments, but is not used immediately by these pigments for energy conversion. Instead, the light energy is transferred to chlorophylls that are in a special protein environment where the actual energy conversion event occurs: the light energy is used to transfer an electron to a neighboring pigment. Pigments and

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protein involved with this actual primary electron transfer event together are called the reaction center. A large number of pigment molecules (100-5000), collectively referred to as antenna, “harvest” light and transfer the light energy to the same reaction center. The purpose is to maintain a high rate of electron transfer in the reaction center, even at lower light intensities.

Many antenna pigments transfer their light energy to a single reaction center by having this energy “hop” to another antenna pigment, and yet to another, etc., until the energy is “trapped” in the reaction center. Each step of this energy transfer must be very efficient to avoid a large loss in the overall transfer process, and the association of the various pigments with proteins ensures that transfer efficiencies are high by having appropriate pigments close to each other, and by having an appropriate molecular geometry of the pigments with respect to each other. An exception to the rule of protein-bound pigments are green bacteria with very large antenna systems: a large part of these antenna systems consists of a “bag” (named chlorosome) of up to several thousand bacteriochlorophyll molecules that interact with each other and that are not in direct contact with protein.

In many systems the size of the photosynthetic antenna is flexible, and photosynthetic organisms growing at low light (in the shade, for example) generally will have a larger number of antenna pigments per reaction center than those growing at higher light intensity. However, at high light intensities (for example, in full sunlight) the amount of light that is absorbed by plants exceeds the capacity of electron transfer initiated by reaction centers. Plants have developed means to convert some of the absorbed light energy to heat rather than to use the absorbed light necessarily for photosynthesis. However, in particular the first part of photosynthetic electron transfer in plants is rather sensitive to overly high rates of electron transfer, and part of the photosynthetic electron transport chain may be shut down when the light intensity is too high; this phenomenon is known as photoinhibition.

Photosynthetic Electron Transfer.

The initial electron transfer (charge separation) reaction in the photosynthetic reaction center sets into motion a long series of redox (reduction-oxidation) reactions, passing the electron along a chain of cofactors and filling up the “electron hole” on the chlorophyll, much like in a bucket brigade. All photosynthetic organisms that produce oxygen have two types of reaction centers, named photosystem II and photosystem I (PS II and PS I, for short), both of which are pigment/protein complexes that are located in specialized membranes called thylakoids. In eukaryotes (plants and algae), these thylakoids are located in chloroplasts (organelles in plant cells) and often are found in membrane stacks (grana) (Figures 3 and 4). Prokaryotes (bacteria) do not have chloroplasts or other organelles, and photosynthetic pigment-protein complexes either are in the membrane around the cytoplasm or in invaginations thereof (as is found, for example, in purple bacteria), or are in thylakoid membranes that form much more complex structures within the cell (as is the case for most cyanobacteria) (Figure 5). leaves. This is why plants are green.

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