The claims that photosynthesis is one of the most critical processes on Earth are not without merit. Life on Earth is based on carbon, oxygen, and their sunlight-induced interplay. The same sentient beings that are continually studying the mechanism of photosynthesis would not exist without it. The carbohydrates that provide nourishment and the oxygen that most organisms breathe are a product of photosynthesis. However, despite centuries of inquiry, the process and its applications are still not fully understood. A recent article in Nature Communications explains one of the current mysteries that scientists are working to solve.
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The publication was reported in Science Daily, with a solid summary that puts it in context. The Tokyo University of Science (2020) briefly explains the process of photosynthesis in detail and mentions the two photosynthetic systems. It also describes a recently-discovered Chl f molecule that the publication is centered around, with comments from one of the researchers who wrote the initial article.
The article itself is written very densely, as it explains a single particular process of photosynthesis in great, yet inaccessible, detail. Kato et al. (2020) focus on the species of algae, in which the Chl f molecule was first discovered. The Chl f molecule is a recent finding, and its function in the photosystem was previously unknown. The team behind the paper set out to investigate its role in the microorganism.
Human beings are not able to see the light above and below a certain threshold of frequency. The light below that threshold is referred to as infrared, and it comprises approximately half of the solar energy that reaches Earth, according to Prof. Tomo (Tokyo University of Science, 2020). The novel findings show that Chl f absorbs that infrared light, which helps create more energy. That molecule does not appear in the algae in any significant capacity under normal circumstances.
However, it is synthesized in the photosystem I under the conditions where infrared light is prevalent, while the visible light is less so. It could be an evolutionary adaptation of the algae to survive and thrive in conditions where white fluorescent light is less available (Kato et al., 2020). That adaptation helps the same species populate different ecological niches and generate sustenance easier than other species.
It is difficult to compare the article to the textbook. The textbook describes photosynthesis in a broad context, explaining its mechanisms and importance to a wide audience. In contrast, the article is clearly written for other scientists to serve as a foothold for further investigation of Chl f, its functions, and its applications. It does not explain much else about photosynthesis, and if it does, it is incomprehensible. The researchers included descriptions of specific molecules in the photosynthetic system down to their measurements, as well as pictures of the photosynthetic systems in the algae, which they received via cryo-EM single particle analyses.
The work is not intended primarily for the layperson’s perusal. That is why the summary in the Science Daily is so useful, as it highlights the important findings and puts the work in context. It describes photosynthesis briefly, and in less detail than the textbook because its main focus is on explaining the article. It helps the reader understand why the findings are so important. It also relates the results to harnessing solar power more effectively, which is an exciting prospect for the technologically- and ecologically-inclined readers.
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Photosynthesis is one of the pillars of life on Earth as humans know it. The generation of nutrients from photons and carbon dioxide benefits most of the planet’s lifeforms. Chlorophyll is the cornerstone of photosynthesis, and, like most other things, it is not yet fully understood. Recently, a new molecule was discovered, which was found to induce photosynthesis using far-red shifted light. This finding benefits many spheres of science and technology, and will surely be a stepping stone towards a more in-depth scientific inquiry.
Kato, K., Shinoda, T., Nagao, R., Akimoto, S., Suzuki, T., Dohmae, N., … Tomo, T. (2020). Structural basis for the adaptation and function of chlorophyll f in photosystem I. Nature Communications, 11(1).
Tokyo University of Science. (2020). New study on a recently discovered chlorophyll molecule could be key to better solar cells: Scientists uncover the location and functions of a new type of chlorophyll molecule for the first time. ScienceDaily. Web.