Scientists have discovered a new type of photosynthesis in algae, which challenges everything we thought we knew about the mechanism that turns sunlight into energy.
Green plants rely on photosynthesis to capture carbon dioxide and turn it into sugars, which they need for fuel. The general theory was that photosynthesis operated only with red light.
Researchers at Imperial College London found that some blue algae thrive on a type o photosynthesis that taps infrared light.
The new form of photosynthesis made us rethink what we thought was possible,
said senior researcher Bill Rutherford.
The findings appeared this week in the journal Science.
Rutherford believes that the discovery is “textbook changing stuff” as it challenges the very understanding of the core of the standard photosynthesis.
Scientists spotted the new type of photosynthesis in blue-green algae in Australian waters and remote areas in the United States’ Yellowstone National Park.
Scientists Wrong About Photosynthesis
The standard mechanism relies on the plants’ chlorophyll-a, which is the pigment that gives plants the color green. All plants, along with some rare bacteria, contain the pigment. For decades, researchers have thought that photosynthesis has a so-called “red limit”.
The latest study proved they were wrong. Some plants can contain chlorophyll-f which drives photosynthesis as well even when there is no red light.
The Imperial College London team tested the hypothesis in controlled settings. They placed photosynthetic bacteria in an environment exposed only to infrared light. They found that cyanobacteria’s photosynthesis is not affected by the absence of red light.
The findings could help researchers genetically edit crops to thrive in environments with low lighting. Co-author Dennis Nürnberg noted that nature is “amazing” since there are still plenty of things waiting to be discovered.
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