Scientists have solved the structure of one of the key components of photosynthesis, a discovery that could lead to photosynthesis being 'redesigned' to achieve higher yields and meet urgent food security needs. The study, led by the University of Sheffield and published today in the journal Nature, reveals the structure of cytochrome b6f -- the protein complex that significantly influences plant growth via photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is the foundation of life on Earth providing the food, oxygen and energy that sustains the biosphere and human civilisation. Using a high-resolution structural model, the team found that the protein complex provides the electrical connection between the two light-powered chlorophyll-proteins (Photosystems I and II) found in the plant cell chloroplast that convert sunlight into chemical energy.
Lorna Malone, the first author of the study and a PhD student in the University of Sheffield's Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, said: "Our study provides important new insights into how cytochrome b6f utilises the electrical current passing through it to power up a 'proton battery'. This stored energy can then be then used to make ATP, the energy currency of living cells. Ultimately this reaction provides the energy that plants need to turn carbon dioxide into the carbohydrates and biomass that sustain the global food chain."