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9 Photosynthesis
Essential Idea: Photosynthesis uses the energy in sunlight to
produce the chemical energy needed for life

-First noticed by Joseph Priestley

-he discovered that green plants seemed to reverse the effect of burning
-he grew a plant inside a covered glass jar and put a candle in; the candle
kept burning for a significant duration
-when the candle went out, the plant was allowed to grow for another 10
days. Then, a new candle was put in and it burned for a longer duration

-Photosynthesis is a process used by plants, algae, and certain prokaryotes

to produce organic compounds from basic inorganic substances using light
-water and carbon dioxide (both inorganic) are converted into sugars
-Recall: light from the sun is composed of a range of wavelengths (colours) to
give white light
-shortest wavelength: blues have more energy
-longer wavelength: reds have less energy

-Photosynthesis occurs in chloroplasts in plants

-It is a double-membrane organelle that contains 2 important components:
stroma and thylakoids

-Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll, which is the main photosynthetic pigment

-where light energy is trapped and converted to chemical energy
-2 main types of chlorophyll: a and b
-they absorb light at different wavelengths
-Greatest absorption of light is the violet/blue (400nm to 525nm range) and
also the red (625nm to 700nm) range of the electromagnetic spectrum
-Least absorption of light is the yellow/green range
-this light is reflected, explains why so many plants are green
-Absorption is often shown graphically
-absorption spectrum: show pattern of absorption
-similar to an action spectrum, portrays the efficiency of photosynthesis at
different wavelengths
-Efficiency: the % of light of a certain wavelength that is used in
-violet, blue, and red are the most efficient
-But the action spectrum shows some photosynthesis occurring at
yellow/green range even though absorption by chlorophyll a and b is very
low at this wavelength
-this is due to the presence of accessing pigments: such as xanthophylls,
carotenoids (these absorb light in the yellow/green range)

-Photosynthesis involves many chemical reactions: separated into 2 main

-light dependent reactions: need a continual supply of light
-light independent reactions: need light indirectly, able to occur for some
time in darkness

Light Dependent Reactions

-Occurs in the thylakoid membrane
-Chlorophyll and other pigment molecules are arranged in clusters called
-there are 2 types: photosystem I and photosystem II
-photons of light are absorbed by molecules in the photosystem

-the light excites (raises to a higher energy level) an electron inside the
chlorophyll and energy is passed on (successive exciting and the falling back
of electron when energy is emitted) until the electron reaches a specific
chlorophyll molecule at the reaction center
(A pigment molecule inside the photosystem absorbs energy so that it
excites an electron to a higher energy level. When the electron relaxes and
drops back down into the lower, more stable energy state, it passes on the
energy to the next pigment molecule. Eventually, the energy gets passed
onto the reaction center.)
-this process is called photoactivation
-The electron then leaves chlorophyll and is passed down an electron
transport chain

Photosystem II:
-Results in the production of ATP and O2
-When the energized electron leaves the reaction center and is passed along
a electron transport chain, energy is released each time the electron is
passed from carrier to carrier
-The energy that is released causes protons to be pumped across the
thylakoid membrane into the fluid space (thylakoid space) inside the
-this creates a proton gradient (build up of protons, causes concentration
-ATP synthase (enzyme that produces ATP) is also located in the thylakoid
-they allow protons to flow out across the membrane, down the
concentration gradient
-Energy is released as protons move out: this energy is used to synthesize
-The coupling of electron transport and ATP synthesis via proton
concentration gradient = chemiosmosis

-The production of ATP using energy from excited electrons in photosystem II

is called non-cyclic photophosphorylation

-The electron is then passed on to photosystem I

-however, the electron lost from photosystem II needs to be replacedenzyme in the reaction center
-Water molecules found in thylakoid space split:
H2O ----> 0.5O2 + 2H+ + 2e-Electron passed onto the chlorophyll in the reaction center
-Oxygen and hydrogen ions are by-products of this process
-The splitting of water only occurs in the presence of light: this is called

Photosystem I:
-Absorbs photons and passes electrons along carriers to NADP+ in stroma
- NADP+ accepts 2 electrons from the transport chain and one hydrogen ion
from the stroma to form NADPH
-electrons lost is replaced by photosystem II
-The flow of electrons through the thylakoid membrane is limited by the
amount of NADP+ available to ultimately pick up electrons that are excited
and passed through carriers both in photosystem I and II
-the electrons is then passed back along carriers to photosystem I
-As the electrons is passed along, protons are pumped in across the thylakoid
membrane, producing a concentration gradient
-ATP is synthesized as protons flow back out across the membrane via ATP
synthase (down the concentration gradient)

Light Independent Reactions

-These reactions dont really need light
-Takes place in stroma
-The energy trapped from sunlight in the light dependent reactions is stored
in ATP and NADPH is used here
-Carbon dioxide is an important part of this reaction (diffuses into

Calvin Cycle:
-Discovered by Melvin Calvin, Andrew Benson at UC Berkeley in 1945-1955
-used a suspension of unicellular algae to study the steps involved in
changing carbon dioxide to carbohydrates
-used radioactive CO2 (with


C) and allowed algae to photosynthesize

-the algae were killed at given time intervals

-The compounds in algae were separated using chromatography, then
exposed to film
-able to see dark blobs on film-were later interpreted to be various
compounds in each step of the cycle
-They won a Nobel Prize for their discoveries

Steps of the Calvin Cycle:

1. Carbon fixation
-Carbon dioxide combines with ribulose bisphosphate, a 5 carbon sugar
(unstable molecule)
-this is catalyzed by ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase
-This is a very important process that links an inorganic compound with an
organic one
-The new 6C compound immediately splits up into two 3C molecules called
glycerate 3-phosphate (more stable molecule)

2. Reduction
-Each glycerate 3-phosphate is then reduced to triose phosphate
-2 ATP, 2NADPH, 2H+ are used to provide energy

3. Synthesis of carbohydrates
-2 glycerate 3-phosphate molecules can be combined to make glucose

-Starch is formed in stroma by condensation of many glucose phosphates

4. Regeneration of RuBP
-Calvin cycle is a cycle because RuBP is regenerated to replace one that was
used up
-Triose phosphate used to make RuBP
-5 molecules of triose phosphate (3C) are used to make 3RuBP (5C) using
C3 + C3 ----> C6
C6 + C3 ----> C4 + C5 (RuBP)
C4 + C3 ----> C7
C7 + C3 ----> C5 + C5
-for every 6 molecules of triose phosphate, 5 are converted to RuBP (takes
3 turns of the calvin cycle)

Measuring the Rate of Photosynthesis

-Production of oxygen: aquatic plants (Elodea) produce oxygen bubble as
they photosynthesize
-we could count the rate at which bubbles are produced or collect bubbles
in a graduated tube to measure volume

-Uptake of carbon dioxide: this is difficult to measure with plants in air

-but if plants are grown in water, as carbon dioxide is absorbed, the pH of
the water increases
-can use pH indicators of a pH meter to monitor the change

-Increase in biomass (organic content): usually measured by dehydrating the


-harvest plants at regular intervals to determine the rate of increase in

-this is an indirect measure of photosynthesis

Factors that Affect the Rate of Photosynthesis:

-enzymes are involved in photosynthesis
-therefore they have an optimum temperature range where they are most

a) Increasing rate of photosynthesis as the kinetic energy of reactants

b) Maximum rate of reaction of photosynthesis at the optimal
c) Decrease in rate of photosynthesis as the enzymes become denatured

-Carbon dioxide concentration:

-as the concentration of CO2 increases, rate of photosynthesis increases

-at high concentrations, plants are saturated, so rate levels off

-no photosynthesis at very low concentrations

-Light Intensity:
-as light intensity increases, rate of photosynthesis increases
-almost directly proportional
-at high light intensity, the rate becomes constant
-the plant is unable to use light at such high intensity, may even cause
damage to the chlorophyll system

Limiting the Rate of Photosynthesis

-Limiting factor is the factor that is closest to minimum level
-Even if the other factors are changed, they will have no effect on rate
-Overall rate of photosynthesis is set by the step that proceeds the slowest
(rate-limiting step)

-Effect of temperature:
-at low temperatures, all enzymes work slowly
-at high temperatures, RuBP carboxylase does not work effectively
-the rate limiting step is when the carbon dioxide is fixed onto RuBP

-Effect of the Concentration of CO2:

-the rate limiting step is when CO2 is fixed with RuBO to give glycerate 3phosphate
-because CO2 in the atmosphere is not very high, this is often the limiting

-Effect of Light Intensity:

-if there is low light then there will be a shortage of products of the light
dependent reactions (ATP, NADPH)
-the rate limiting step is when glycerate 3-phosphate is reduced
-light is not usually a limiting factor, unless the plant grows in the shade

-Similar to the mitochondria and cell respiration, the chloroplast is uniquely

structured fro photosynthesis
-Relationship between structure and function of chloroplast:
-large surface area of thylakoids increases light absorption
-small space inside thylakoids is used to accumulate protons (establish a
proton gradient)
-fluid in stroma contains enzymes needed for the Calvin cycle