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The puzzle of photosynthesis – is the solution near at hand?

In general terms the process of photosynthesis is reaction of the formation of carbohydrates from carbon dioxide in plants, accompanied by the discharge of free oxygen into the atmosphere. But this simplicity is only apparent simplicity. On a molecular level the mechanism of the process proves to be considerably more complex and in places it remains completely unclear, even to specialists. Experts from the Institute of Fundamental Problems of Biology RAS (Puschino) and their colleagues from the University of Princeton in the USA are trying to get to the bottom of the mechanism of this phenomenon.


Relatively recently the scientists from Puschino learned that carbon dioxide is not only a substrate for carbohydrate synthesis. It transpires that it has another incredibly important role to play – it is involved in the process of water oxidation, from which free oxygen is obtained. True, it is not strictly the carbon dioxide that participates in this process, but a bicarbonate ion, which is obtained when the gas dissolves in water. Despite the efforts of many research laboratories throughout the world, the mechanism of the photosynthetic oxidation of water has not been clarified fully. And this is the puzzle that the scientists from Puschino and Princeton hope to solve jointly.

The obtained results will be important both for an understanding of the molecular mechanism of the fundamental biological process (of considerable importance for the stability and development of the biosphere), and for an understanding of the basis of the resistance of plants to adverse external factors (extreme temperature, UV and ionizing radiation, detergents, etc), as the water oxidation system is the most susceptible part of the plant’s photosynthetic apparatus to injury. It is possible that in future it will be possible to realistically use the plant’s experience and learn how to produce carbohydrates directly from the air, and, in doing so, causing no harm to the environment.

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