Inner workings of photosynthesis revealed by new laser technique

February 9th, 2009 - 2:29 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 9 (ANI): In a research, a powerful new laser technique has helped to reveal the inner workings of photosynthesis, or how the Suns energy moves inside plants, for the very first time.

Inside a photosynthetic protein, the suns energy is efficiently guided across the molecule to drive a chemical reaction that stores energy as food and takes in carbon dioxide (CO2).

Scientists would very much like to harness this process as they search for new energy solutions to replace fossil fuels. To do this, they need to understand this energy transport process in more detail.

Analyzing energy transport is an important way of understanding the inner workings of a wide range of systems, from biological processes to car engines.

However, in very small-scale systems such as photosynthetic molecules, quantum effects come into play, making it difficult for scientists to explain how photosynthetic molecules are able to transport energy with remarkably high efficiency.

These new pictures are instantaneous snap-shots of energy being transported between electrons across a protein. Remarkably, the pictures go further in unraveling the complex way the electrons interact. This gives us something akin to a fingerprint for electronic couplings, Dr Ian Mercer from the School of Physics at University College Dublin, the lead author of the new study, told ENN (Environmental News Network).

The researchers probed a sample of a protein found in bacteria, called LH2, which was provided by the University of Glasgow.

This bacterial protein was used because it harvests light in the same way as photosynthetic plant proteins.

By illuminating the sample with a combination of high power laser pulses all derived from the same laser, the researchers obtained a map of bright spots on a camera in a tiny fraction of a second.

The position of each spot corresponds to a unique angle of light emitted from the sample and this directly relates to how electrons in the protein respond to the laser light and to each other.

According to Dr John Tisch from Imperial College Londons Department of Physics, The laser produces a very broad range of colours, which allowed us to map a broad range of energy levels in the protein.

With this laser, a map can be captured with a single pulse of laser light meaning that full information can be gathered prior to, or during, a chemical reaction.

Hopefully one day we will be able to harness the exquisite mechanisms that we learn about from molecules, whose function has been honed by evolution over hundreds of millions of years, said Dr Mercer. (ANI)

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