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Scientists determine the structure of highly efficient light-harvesting molecules in green bacteria
Date:5/4/2009

An international team of scientists has determined the structure of the chlorophyll molecules in green bacteria that are responsible for harvesting light energy. The team's results one day could be used to build artificial photosynthetic systems, such as those that convert solar energy to electrical energy. A research paper about the discovery will be published on 4 May 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists found that the chlorophylls are highly efficient at harvesting light energy. "We found that the orientation of the chlorophyll molecules make green bacteria extremely efficient at harvesting light," said Donald Bryant, Ernest C. Pollard Professor of Biotechnology at Penn State and one of the team's leaders. According to Bryant, green bacteria are a group of organisms that generally live in extremely low-light environments, such as in light-deprived regions of hot springs and at depths of 100 meters in the Black Sea. The bacteria contain structures called chlorosomes, which contain up to 250,000 chlorophylls. "The ability to capture light energy and rapidly deliver it to where it needs to go is essential to these bacteria, some of which see only a few photons of light per chlorophyll per day."

Because they have been so difficult to study, the chlorosomes in green bacteria are the last class of light-harvesting complexes to be characterized structurally by scientists. Scientists typically characterize molecular structures using X-ray crystallography, a technique that determines the arrangement of atoms in a molecule and ultimately gives information that can be used to create a picture of the molecule; however, X-ray crystallography could not be used to characterize the chlorosomes in green bacteria because the technique only works for molecules that are uniform in size, shape, and structure. "Each chlorosome in a green bacterium has a unique organization," said Bryant. "They are like lit
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Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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