I’ve long been a great supporter of photosynthesis. I’m sure that 99.9% of scientists think the same because without the process of photosynthesis there would be no life on earth. Photosynthesis in rain forests provide about 20% of our planet’s oxygen, whilst the oceans provide between 50%- 80% of oxygen from photosynthesis in ocean dwelling plankton. So, the ocean is important.
Photosynthesis works by using a chemical known as chlorophyll-a, which converts carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen using the red part of visual sunlight.
A while ago, scientists discovered the cyanobacterium, Acaryochloris, could photosynthesis beyond the red limit. The discovery was made in the ocean where Acaryochloris has a very specific habitat living underneath a green sea-squirt that shades out most of the visible light leaving it to photosynthesise in near-infrared. This was considered a ‘one-off’ species.
Well, the amazing news this week is the discovery of a third type of chlorophyll, which can be found in a wide range of existing cyanobacteria found in shaded conditions like bacterial mats in Yellowstone and in beach rock in Australia. The newly discovered chlorophyll ‘f’ can work in shaded areas of infra-red light in stable, shaded environments.
In normal light conditions, the standard red form of photosynthesis is used, but the new form of photosynthesis could allow for reactions to take place in the ‘dark’ using infra-red lamps.
There appears to be no cell damage done by the infra-red, so living beyond the red limit is something for scientists to play with in the future.
So – could we improve or invent new technology using this new system?
Why am I so excited? Well, those of you who have heard my talks will know, oxygen is vital to our lives and the oceans (which supply most of our oxygen) are becoming acidic with the increased CO2 from the atmosphere being absorbed into the oceans. The likelihood of technology being able to ‘make’ oxygen, using the new infra-red photosynthesis is very exciting indeed. It doesn’t mean we should stop trying to eliminate the excess use of CO2, but a possible guaranteed oxygen supply sounds great to me.
I’ve got solar panels on my roof, perhaps one day I can have an oxygen maker, using chlorophyll-f and infra- red light, in my under-stair cupboard.
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-06-photosynthesis.html#jCp