First movie of energy transfer determines photosynthesis speed

London: Using ultrafast imaging of moving energy, scientists have determined the speed of photosynthesis.

The study said the imaging could help scientists better understand the process and how it could be copied for producing fuels.

Earlier, it was believed that the process of charge separation in the reaction was the slowest step in the process. But scientists have shown that the slowest step is in fact the process through which the plants harvest light and transfer its energy through the antennae to the reaction centre.

“We can now see how nature has optimised the physics of converting light energy to fuel, and can probe this process using our new technique of ultrafast crystal measurements,” said Jasper van Thor from Imperial College, London.

“For example, is it important that the bottleneck occurs at this stage, in order to preserve overall efficiency? Can we mimic it or tune it to make artificial photosynthesis more efficient? These questions, and many others, can now be explored,” Thor added.

Scientists used lasers to cause reactions in crystals of Photosystem II — enzyme that uses the light energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen — and then measured in space and time the movement of excitations of electrons.

“The resulting movie of the movement of excited electrons across minute sections of the system revealed where energy is held and when it is passed along,” the study noted.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.