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Key to photosynthesis unlocked

Scientists have solved the structure of one of the key components of photosynthesis, a discovery that could lead to photosynthesis being ‘redesigned’ to achieve higher yields.

The study, that was led by the University of Sheffield, found that the protein complex provides the electrical connection between the 2 light-powered chlorophyll-proteins (Photosystems I and II) found in the plant cell chloroplast that convert sunlight into chemical energy, reports Science Daily.

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‘Proton battery

Lorna Malone, the first author of the study and a PhD student in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, said: “Our study provides important new insights into how cytochrome b6f utilises the electrical current passing through it to power up a ‘proton battery’. This stored energy can then be then used to make ATP, the energy currency of living cells. Ultimately this reaction provides the energy that plants need to turn carbon dioxide into the carbohydrates and biomass that sustain the global food chain.”

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The study reveals the structure of cytochrome b6f - the protein complex that significantly influences plant growth via photosynthesis. - Photo: EPA
The study reveals the structure of cytochrome b6f - the protein complex that significantly influences plant growth via photosynthesis. - Photo: EPA

Tune photosynthetic efficiency

The high-resolution structural model, determined using single-particle cryo-electron microscopy, reveals new details of the additional role of cytochrome b6f as a sensor to tune photosynthetic efficiency in response to ever-changing environmental conditions. This response mechanism protects the plant from damage during exposure to harsh conditions such as drought or excess light.

Dr Matt Johnson, reader in Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield and one of the supervisors of the study added: “Cytochrome b6f is the beating heart of photosynthesis which plays a crucial role in regulating photosynthetic efficiency.

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Grow bigger and better plants

“Previous studies have shown that by manipulating the levels of this complex we can grow bigger and better plants. With the new insights we have obtained from our structure we can hope to rationally redesign photosynthesis in crop plants to achieve the higher yields we urgently need to sustain a projected global population of 9-10 billion by 2050.”

Also read: How much can enhancing photosynthesis improve yield?

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