TEMPE, Ariz. Plants have an ambivalent relationship with light. They need it to live, but too much light leads to the increased production of high-energy chemical intermediates that can injure or kill the plant.
The intermediates do this because the efficient conversion of sunlight into chemical energy cannot keep up with sunlight streaming into the plant.
The intermediates dont have anywhere to go because the system is jammed up down the line, says ASU chemist Devens Gust. Plants employ a sophisticated process to defend against damage.
To better understand this process, Gust, along with fellow ASU researchers Thomas Moore and Ana Moore, both professors of chemistry and biochemistry, designed a molecule that mimics what happens in nature. They report results with their molecule in the advanced online publication of Nature Nanotechnology (May 4, 2008).
In nature, plants defend against this sunlight overload process using non-photochemical quenching (NPQ). This process drains off the excess light excitation energy as heat so that it cannot generate the destructive high-energy species.
The ASU-designed molecule works in a similar fashion in that it converts absorbed light to electrochemical energy but reduces the efficiency of the conversion as light intensity increases. The ASU-designed molecule has several components including two light gathering antennas a porphyrin electron donor, a fullerene acceptor and a control unit that reversibly photoisomerizes between a dihydroindolizine (DHI) and a betaine (BT).
When white light (sunlight) shines on a solution of the molecules, light absorbed by the porphyrin (or by the antennas) is converted to electrochemical potential energy. When the white light intensity is increased, the DHI on some molecules change to a different molecular structure, BT, that drains light excitation energy out of the porphyrin and converts it to heat, avoiding the generation of excess
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Arizona State University