Most of us have a pretty basic understanding of what photosynthesis is. Sitting in a high school biology classroom, we open our textbook to find exactly what’s expected: carbon dioxide + water + light ➤ oxygen +glucose. It’s a pretty basic equation, one that has been an unaltered concept in science. That is… until now. While research involving chlorophyll has made news in recent years, a new breakthrough by the Imperial College London team has opened a copious amount of opportunities for the future.
It stands to reason that photosynthesis is a process commonly used by plants and bacteria to convert the sun’s energy into stored chemical energy. The combination of carbon dioxide and water with sunlight results in organic compounds such as sugars. The food and energy supplied by this procedure are necessary for cellular respiration. The leaves of the plant though, play the most important role. Stomata, which are the pores of the leaves, absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Water is also transferred to the leaves through the roots of the plant. The most important fact surrounding leaves though is that they contain the chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are the organelles that photosynthesis takes place in, thanks to their containment of chlorophyll. (1) Prior evidence recalls that organisms undergo red light photosynthesis, comprised of chlorophyll-a, and reflect the green hues that we so commonly associate with plants. (2)
Chlorophyll-f, however, has made headlines due to its involvement with aquatic and photosynthetic organisms, commonly referred to as cyanobacteria. Although organisms universally undergo photosynthesis with the use of visible red light (chlorophyll-a), it’s been discovered that some use near-infrared light in its place. This was generally associated with cyanobacteria, which had begun to perform the process in conditions with less energy, thus the chlorophyll-f. This resulted in the growth of these bacteria in typically shaded and below-surface areas. (3)
The scientists at Imperial College London have redesigned our views on the whole manner. Their insight on how cyanobacteria typically switch to chlorophyll-f in the presence of infrared light has brought into questions the energy requirements of photosynthesis. (4) The potential of this discovery is marveling. One may ask, “What does this mean for the future?” Well, researchers believe this breakthrough could pave the way for more energy efficient plants that are able to utilize different light conditions. In such a mind-boggling study, scientists have begun to reevaluate other information as well, and suppose this could lead to the unveiling of life on other planets. (5)
With this unexpected game changer in the process of photosynthesis, experts can only wonder what will be uncovered next. Things evolve, and that’s the wonder of science. Looks like it may be time to update the textbooks.
References & Footnotes
(1) “Photosynthesis in Plants.” Photosynthesis Education, http://www.photosynthesiseducation.com/photosynthesis-in-plants/.
(2) Gabbatiss, Josh. “New Type of Photosynthesis Discovered That Could Change Hunt for Alien Life.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 15 June 2018, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/new-photosynthesis-bacteria-algae-hunt-alien-life-cyanobacteria-imperial-college-a8401126.html.
(3) Motivans, Elena. “A ‘Textbook Changing’ New Form of Photosynthesis Has Been Discovered.” ZME Science, 15 June 2018, http://www.zmescience.com/research/discoveries/a-textbook-changing-new-form-of-photosynthesis-has-been-discovered/.
(4) Roston, Brittany A. “Scientists Discover New Type of Photosynthesis in Breakthrough Study.” SlashGear, 15 June 2018, http://www.slashgear.com/scientists-discover-new-type-of-photosynthesis-in-breakthrough-study-15534470/.
(5) Dunning, Hayley. “New Type of Photosynthesis Discovered.” Imperial News, Imperial College London, 15 June 2018, http://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/186732/new-type-photosynthesis-discovered/.