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Photosystems (ancient Greek: phos = light and systema = assembly) are protein complexes involved in photosynthesis. They are found in the thylakoid membranes of plants, algae and cyanobacteria (in plants and algae these are located in the chloroplasts), or in the cytoplasmic membrane of photosynthetic bacteria. A photosystem (or Reaction Center) is an enzyme which uses light to reduce molecules. This membrane protein complex is made of several subunits and contains numerous cofactors. In the photosynthetic membranes, reaction centers provide the driving force for the bioenergetic electron and proton transfer chain. When light is absorbed by a reaction center (either directly or passed by neighbouring pigment-antennae), a series of oxido-reduction reactions is initiated, leading to the reduction of a terminal acceptor. Two families of photosystems exist: type I reaction centers (like photosystem I (P700) in chloroplasts and in green-sulphur bacteria) and type II reaction centers (like photosystem II (P680) in chloroplasts and in non-sulphur purple bacteria). Each photosystem can be identified by the wavelength of light to which it is most reactive (700 and 680 nanometers, respectively for PSI and PSII in chloroplasts), and the type of terminal electron acceptor. Type I photosystems use ferredoxin-like iron-sulfur cluster proteins as terminal electron acceptors, while type II photosystems ultimately shuttle electrons to a quinone terminal electron acceptor. One has to note that both reaction centers types are present in chloroplasts and cyanobacteria, working together to form a unique photosynthetic chain able to extract electrons from water, evolving oxygen as a byproduct.


A reaction center comprises several (> 10 or >11) protein subunits, providing a scaffold for a series of cofactors. The latter can be pigments (like chlorophyll, pheophytin, carotenoids), quinones or iron-sulfur clusters. Because chlorophyll a can only absorb light of a narrow wavelength, it works with the antenna pigments to gain energy from a larger part of the spectrum. The pigments absorb light of various wavelengths and pass along their gained energy to the reaction center chlorophyll. When the energy reaches the chlorophyll a, it releases two electrons into an electron transport chain.

Though chlorophyll a normally has an optimal absorption wavelength of 660 nanometers, it associates with different proteins in each type of photosystem to slightly shift its optimal wavelength, producing two distinct photosystem types. Other proteins serve to support the structure and electron pathways in the photosystem.

Relationship between Photosystems I and II

  Historically photosystem I was named I since it was discovered before photosystem II, but this does not represent the order of the electron flow.

When photosystem II absorbs light, electrons in the reaction-center chlorophyll are excited to a higher energy level and are trapped by the primary electron acceptors. To replenish the deficit of electrons, electrons are extracted from water (either through photolysis or enzymatic means) and supplied to the chlorophyll.

Photoexcited electrons travel though the cytochrome b6f complex to photosystem I via an electron transport chain set in the thylakoid membrane. This energy fall is harnessed, (the whole process termed chemiosmosis), to transport hydrogen (H+) through the membrane to provide a proton-motive force to generate ATP. If electrons only pass through once, the process is termed noncyclic photophosphorylation.

When the electron reaches photosystem I, it fills the electron deficit of the reaction-center chlorophyll of photosystem I. The deficit is due to photo-excitation of electrons which are again trapped in an electron acceptor molecule, this time that of photosystem I.

These electrons may either continue to go through cyclic electron transport around PS I, or pass, via ferredoxin, to the enzyme NADP+ reductase. Electrons and hydrogen ions are added to NADP+ to form NADPH. This reducing agent is transported to the Calvin cycle to react with glycerate 3-phosphate, along with ATP to form glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate, the basic building block from which plants can make a variety of substances.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Photosystem". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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