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In the process of photosynthesis, light is absorbed by a photosystem (ancient Greek: phos = light and systema = assembly) to begin an energy-producing reaction. The photosytems are contained within the chloroplasts in the leaves of plants. Two types of photosystems exist: photosystem I (P700) and photosystem II (P680). Each photosystem is differentiated by the wavelength of light to which it is most reactive (700 and 680 nanometers, respectively), and the type of terminal electron acceptor. Type I photosystems use ferredoxin like iron-sulfur cluster proteins as terminal electron acceptors, while type II photosystems ultimately shuffle electrons to a quinone terminal electron acceptor.


A photosystem is made up of a reaction center pigment of chlorophyll a and numerous antenna pigments and proteins. Because chlorophyll a can only absorb light of a narrow wavelength, it works with the antenna pigments to gain energy from a larger part of the spectrum. The pigments absorb light of various wavelengths and pass along their gained energy to the reaction center chlorophyll. When the energy reaches the chlorophyll a, it releases two electrons into an electron transport chain.

Though chlorophyll a normally has an optimal absorption wavelength of 660 nanometers, it associates with different proteins in each type of photosytem to slightly shift its optimal wavelength, producing two distinct photosystem types. Other proteins serve to support the structure and electron pathways in the photosystem.

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