An international team of scientists has just discovered an entirely new type of photosynthesis that could profoundly help in the search for alien life, while at the same time helping to create crops that are able to efficiently use wavelengths of light that are much longer than normal.
According to Phys.org, the groundbreaking new study was headed up by Imperial College London, with researchers from universities around the world helping to collaborate, including the ANU in Canberra, the CNR in Milan, and the CNRS in Paris.
While most of life on Earth as we know it conducts photosynthesis through visible red light, the new kind of photosynthesis just discovered was found to use near-infrared light.
The discovery of this new type of photosynthesis was found in the blue-green algae that are scientifically known as cyanobacteria and was observed in different beach rocks around Australia, while also being spotted in Yellowstone National Park in dark areas like bacterial mats.
Happily for scientists, the same condition was also observed inside a cupboard at Imperial College London after scientists outfitted it with infrared LEDs.
What we think of as normal photosynthesis uses chlorophyll-a so that it can take in light, using this light so it can then create oxygen. Because all plants, cyanobacteria, and algae contain chlorophyll-a, at least as far as scientists are aware, it was previously thought that red light was needed to produce the energy called for when it comes to photosynthesis.
But scientists have now observed that when cyanobacteria are placed under a near-infrared light, instead of using chlorophyll-a to create oxygen, chlorophyll-f does the work instead, with the chlorophyll-a system essentially shut down.
After observing how chlorophyll-f took over the role from chlorophyll-a in photosynthesis under darker-than-normal conditions, Imperial College London’s Bill Rutherford has determined that science textbooks around the world may need to be changed after such a radical new discovery.
“The new form of photosynthesis made us rethink what we thought was possible. It also changes how we understand the key events at the heart of standard photosynthesis. This is textbook changing stuff.”
Dr. Andrea Fantuzzi explained that the new research may also have far-reaching implications when it comes to useful work like developing crops while using light that is in a much broader range.
“Finding a type of photosynthesis that works beyond the red limit changes our understanding of the energy requirements of photosynthesis. This provides insights into light energy use and into mechanisms that protect the systems against damage by light.”
The groundbreaking new research on the new type of photosynthesis that has been discovered has been published in Science.