Far-red absorption and light-use efficiency trade-offs in chlorophyll f photosynthesis

Vincenzo Mascoli, Luca Bersanini, Roberta Croce*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Plants and cyanobacteria use the chlorophylls embedded in their photosystems to absorb photons and perform charge separation, the first step of converting solar energy to chemical energy. While oxygenic photosynthesis is primarily based on chlorophyll a photochemistry, which is powered by red light, a few cyanobacterial species can harness less energetic photons when growing in far-red light. Acclimatization to far-red light involves the incorporation of a small number of molecules of red-shifted chlorophyll f in the photosystems, whereas the most abundant pigment remains chlorophyll a. Due to its different energetics, chlorophyll f is expected to alter the excited-state dynamics of the photosynthetic units and, ultimately, their performances. Here we combined time-resolved fluorescence measurements on intact cells and isolated complexes to show that chlorophyll f insertion slows down the overall energy trapping in both photosystems. While this marginally affects the efficiency of photosystem I, it substantially decreases that of photosystem II. Nevertheless, we show that despite the lower energy output, the insertion of red-shifted chlorophylls in the photosystems remains advantageous in environments that are enriched in far-red light and therefore represents a viable strategy for extending the photosynthetically active spectrum in other organisms, including plants. However, careful design of the new photosynthetic units will be required to preserve their efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1044-1053
Number of pages10
JournalNature Plants
Early online date13 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


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