All natural photosynthetic organisms contain light-gathering antenna systems in which specialized pigments (typically several hundred molecules) collect energy and transfer it to a reaction center where photochemistry takes place.
With so many pigments absorbing light energy, the capacity of the photosynthetic apparatus to process the energy is quickly exceeded. In leaves in full sun, up to 80 percent of the absorbed energy must be dumped to avoid its diversion into toxic chemical reactions that could damage or even kill the plant.
Modern agriculture has pushed photosynthesis about as far as it can go based on incremental improvements such as selection for high yield crops, land use improvements, use of modern fertilizers, water use, pesticides to control pests, and in short, the green revolution and all that it entails.
"We have identified many of the important inefficiencies that arise from the basic design of photosynthesis and have suggested ways to reengineer photosynthesis to improve its ability to meet human energy needs," explains Moore, a Regents' Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
"These improvements to photosynthesis go beyond the incremental steps practiced since agriculture began thousands of years ago. At the end we allude to the use of synthetic biology to bring the knowledge and experience from fundamental studies in physics and artificial photosynthesis to photosynthesis in a combination of biology with technology to meet human energy needs."
Operating at approximately 133 trillion watts (or terawatts), photosynthesis powers the biosphere and thereby life on Earth. Currently, human activity appropriates about 24 percent of photosynthetic net primary production (NPP) to support the U.S. gross domestic product and nutrition.
The cost to the biosphere of "our cut" of NPP is driving several Earth systems irrevers
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Arizona State University