2. PHOTOSYNTHESIS. The general equation describing photosynthesis is light + 6 H 2 O + 6 CO 2 C 6 H 12 O O 2

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1 2. PHOTOSYNTHESIS Photosynthesis is the process by which light energy is converted to chemical energy whereby carbon dioxide and water are converted into organic molecules. The process occurs in most algae, and in fact much of what is known about photosynthesis was first discovered by studying the green alga Chlorella. The general equation describing photosynthesis is light + 6 H 2 O + 6 CO 2 C 6 H 12 O O 2 C6H12O6 is glucose. Sometimes you will see CH 2 O or (CH 2 O)n. These are general formulas for glucose or any carbohydrate. The process of photosynthesis begins with light-absorbing pigments in algal cells. A pigment molecule is able to absorb the energy from light only within a narrow range of wavelengths. In order to absorb as much of the entire bandwidth from sunlight as possible, different pigments, capable of absorbing different wavelengths, act together to optimize energy absorption. These pigments include the green chlorophyll a and chlorophylls b, c, d and the carotenoids, which are red, orange, or yellow. When the light is absorbed into one of these pigments, the energy from the light is incorporated into electrons within the atoms that make up the molecule. These energized electrons (or excited electrons) are unstable and almost immediately reemit the absorbed energy. The energy is then reabsorbed by electrons of a nearby pigment molecule. The process of energy absorption, followed by re-emission of energy, continues, with the energy bouncing from one pigment molecule to another. The process ends when the energy is absorbed by one of two special chlorophyll a molecules, P680 and P700. These two chlorophyll molecules, named with numbers that represent the wavelengths at which they absorb their maximum amounts of light (680 and 700 nanometers), are different from other chlorophyll molecules because of their association with various nearby pigments. Together with these other pigments, chlorophyll P700 forms a pigment cluster called photosystem I (PS I). Chlorophyll P680 forms photosystem II (PS II). 25

2 The chemical reactions that now take place are illustrated in Figure 1. Refer to the figure as you read the following descriptions of the metabolic processes. Figure 1 26

3 Noncyclic Photophosphorylation Photophosphorylation is the process of making ATP from ADP and Pi (phosphorylation) using energy derived from light (photo). Noncyclic photophosphorylation begins with PS II and follows the steps: 1. Photosystem II. Electrons trapped by P680 in photosystem II are energized by light. In Figure 1, two electrons are shown moving up, signifying an increase in their energy. 2. Primary electron acceptor. Two energized electrons are passed to a molecule called the primary electron acceptor. This electron acceptor is called primary because it is the first in a chain of electron acceptors. 3. Electron transport chain. Electrons pass through an electron transport chain. This chain consists of proteins that pass electrons from one carrier protein to the next. Some carrier proteins, like ferredoxin and cytochrome, include nonprotein parts containing iron. 4. Phosphorylation. As the two electrons move down the electron transport chain, they lose energy. The energy lost by the electrons as they pass along the electron transport chain is used to phosphorylate, on average, about 1.5 ATP molecules. 5. Photosystem I. The electron transport chain terminates with PS I (with P700). Here the electrons are again energized by sunlight and passed to a primary electron acceptor (different from the one associated with PS II). 6. NADPH. The two electrons pass through a short electron transport chain. At the end of the chain, the two electrons combine with NADP+ and H+ to form NADPH. NADPH is a coenzyme. Since the electrons have a considerable amount of energy left, NADPH is an energy-rich molecule. 7. Photolysis. The two electrons that originated in PS II are now incorporated into NADPH. The loss of these two electrons from PS II is replaced when H2O is split into two electrons, 2 H + and 1 2 O2. The process is called photolysis and literally means decomposition (lysis) by light (photo). A manganese-containing protein complex catalyzes the reaction. The two electrons from H2O replace the lost electrons from PS II. One of the H+ provides the H in NADPH. In summary, photophosphorylation takes the energy in light and the electrons in H2O to make the energy-rich molecules ATP and NADPH. Because the reactions require light, they are often called the light-dependent reactions or, simply, light reactions. The following equation informally summarizes the process: H 2 O + ADP + P i + NADP + + light ATP + NADPH + O 2 + H + Cyclic Photophosphorylation A second photophosphorylation sequence occurs when the electrons energized in PS I are recycled. In this sequence, energized electrons from PS I join with protein carriers and generate ATP as they pass along the electron transport chain. In contrast to noncyclic photophosphorylation where electrons become incorporated into NADPH, electrons in cyclic photophosphorylation return to PS I. Here they can be energized again to participate in cyclic or noncyclic photophosphorylation. Cyclic photophosphorylation is considered a primitive form of photosynthesis but occurs simultaneously with noncyclic photophosphorylation. 27

4 Calvin-Benson Cycle The Calvin-Benson cycle fixes CO2. That is, it takes chemically unreactive, inorganic CO2 and incorporates it into an organic molecule that can be used in biological systems. The biosynthetic pathway involves over a dozen products. The function of the pathway is to produce a single molecule of glucose (C6H12O6). In order to accomplish this, the Calvin-Benson cycle must repeat six times, and use 6 CO2 molecules. Thus, in Figure 1 and the discussion that follows, all the molecules involved have been multiplied by 6. Only the most important molecules are discussed. 1. Carboxylation: 6 CO2 combine with 6 RuBP to produce 12 PGA. The enzyme RuBP carboxylase, or rubisco, catalyzes the merging of CO2 and RuBP (ribulose bisphosphate). The Calvin-Benson cycle is referred to as C3 photosynthesis because the first product formed, PGA (phosphoglycerate), contains three carbon atoms. Other names are the Calvin cycle and the carbon reduction cycle. 2. Reduction: 12 ATP and 12 NADPH are used to convert 12 PGA to 12 PGAL. The energy in the ATP and NADPH molecules is incorporated into PGAL (glyceride 3-phosphate), thus making PGAL a very energy-rich molecule. ADP, Pi, and NADP+ are released and then re-energized in noncyclic photophosphorylation. 3. Regeneration: 6 ATP are used to convert 10 PGAL to 6 RuBP. Regenerating the 6 RuBP originally used to combine with 6 CO2 allows the cycle to repeat. 4. Carbohydrate synthesis. Note that 12 PGAL were created in step 2, but only 10 were used in step 3. What happened to the remaining two? These two remaining PGAL are used to build glucose, a common energy-storing molecule. Other monosaccharides like fructose and maltose can also be formed. In addition, glucose molecules can be combined to form disaccharides like sucrose and polysaccharides like starch and cellulose. ATP NADPH You should recognize that no light is directly used in the Calvin-Benson cycle. Thus, these reactions are often called the light-independent reactions or even the dark reactions. But be careful the process cannot occur in the dark. This is because it is dependent upon the energy from ATP and NADPH, and these two energy-rich molecules can be created only during photophosphorylation, which can occur only in light. 28

5 In summary, the Calvin-Benson cycle takes CO2 from the atmosphere and the energy in ATP and NADPH to create a glucose molecule. Of course, the energy in ATP and NADPH represents energy from the sun captured during photophosphorylation. The Calvin-Benson cycle can be informally summarized as follows: 6CO2 + 18ATP + 12NADPH + H + 18ADP + 18Pi +12NADP + + 1glucose Keep in mind that the reactions that occur during photosynthesis (and in any biosynthetic pathway) do not occur spontaneously. Every product formed in every reaction is catalyzed by an enzyme. In some reactions, coenzymes or metal-ion cofactors may also be involved. Chemiosmotic Theory Chemiosmotic theory describes the mechanism by which ADP is phosphorylated to ATP. The process illustrated in Figure 3 follows the steps listed below. Chemiosmosis in Chloroplasts 1. H+ ions (protons) accumulate inside thylakoids. The light reactions of photosynthesis occur in the membranes of the thylakoids. As photolysis occurs, H+ are created and released to the inside of the thylakoids (the oxygen is released to the outside). Also, H+ accompany the electrons as they pass along the electron transport chain between PS II and PS I. These H+ come from the stroma (outside the thylakoids) and are released to the inside of the thylakoids. 2. A ph and electrical gradient across the thylakoid membrane is created. As H+ accumulate inside the thylakoid, the ph decreases. Since some of these H+ come from outside the thylakoids (from the stroma), the H+ concentration decreases in the stroma and its ph increases. This creates a ph gradient consisting of differences in the concentration of H+ across the thylakoid membrane from a stroma ph 8 to a thylakoid ph 5 (a factor of 1000). Since H+ are positively charged, their accumulation on the inside of the thylakoid creates an electric gradient (or voltage) as well. 3. ATP synthases generate ATP. The ph and electrical gradient represent potential energy like water behind a dam. Similar to a dam, channel proteins, called ATP synthases, allow the H+ to flow through the thylakoid membrane and out to the 29

6 stroma. The energy generated by the passage of the H+ (like the water through turbines in a dam) provides the energy for the ATP synthases to phosphorylate ADP to ATP. The passage of about three H+ is required to generate one ATP. Photorespiration Because of its critical function in catalyzing the fixation of CO2 in all photosynthesizing organisms, rubisco is the most common protein on earth. However, it is not a particularly efficient molecule. In addition to its CO2-fixing capabilities, it is also able to fix oxygen. The biosynthetic pathway that leads to the fixation of oxygen is called photorespiration. Figure : A comparison of photorespiration and carbon fixation. During photorespiration, O 2 is bound to RuBP and forms phosphoglycolate (PG) and Phosphoglycerate (PGA), PG then undergoes an number energy requiring reactions releasing CO 2. Photorespiration depends on the relative concentrations of oxygen and CO 2 where a high O 2 /CO 2 ratio (i.e. high concentration of O 2 and low concentration of CO 2 ) stimulates this process, whereas a low O 2 /CO 2 ratio favours carboxylation. Photorespiration leads to two problems. The first is that the CO2-fixing efficiency is reduced because, instead of fixing only CO2, rubisco fixes some O2 as well. The second problem is that the products formed when O2 is combined with RuBP do not lead to the production of useful, energy-rich molecules like glucose. Instead, it gives one molecule of PGA and one molecule of a 2-carbon compound called phosphoglycolate (PG). A significant portion (25%) of the carbon in phosphoglycolate is lost as CO 2. Phosphoglycolate is also converted to glycolate Specialized cellular organelles, the peroxisomes, are found near chloroplasts, where they function to break down photorespiration products e.g, glycolate. Thus, considerable effort is made by plants to rid the cell of the products of photorespiration. Photosynthetic organisms differ significantly in their rates of photorespiration: in some species it may be as high as 50% of net photosynthesis. For optimal yields in microalgal mass cultures, it is necessary to minimize the effects of photorespiration. This might be achieved by an effective stripping of oxygen and by CO 2 enrichment. For this reason, microalgal mass cultures are typically grown at a much higher CO 2 /O 2 ratio than that found in air. 30

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