Nav: Home

Why cryptophyte algae are really good at harvesting light

December 08, 2016

In an algae-eat-algae world, it's the single-celled photosynthetic organisms at the top (layer of the ocean) that absorb the most sunlight. Underneath, in the sublayers, are cryptophyte algae that must compete for photons that have filtered through the upper depths. The key to their survival, a study published on December 8 in Chem reveals, is the ability to more than triple how fast they capture light energy and funnel it through to molecules that convert it into food. The finding could generate new bio-inspired designs for light-harvesting systems.

Through experiments using ultrashort laser pulses, Princeton University researchers found that the surge in algal light capture results from how energy moves from one light-absorbing molecule to another. Over a course of nanoseconds, energy from light hops between thousands of molecules, and the exchange of energy from molecule to molecule can cause the molecules to vibrate. The increase in vibrations as light begins to be absorbed by the cryptophyte algae sets off a chain reaction that allows additional light energy to be brought in at a faster rate. This enhancement was observed at temperatures the algae would experience in nature.

"Sunlight, even on a bright day, is a pretty weak source of photons--too weak to drive the enzyme chemistry in photosynthesis--so what cryptophyte algae do is cast a net out to catch more photons at a faster rate," says lead author Gregory Scholes, a professor of chemistry at Princeton. "Because the light they're getting is much weaker than that received by a plant on the earth, photon harvesting is much more important."

Current light-harvesting technologies are using similar strategies to improve absorption by inorganic molecules, but not to the extent seen in cryptophyte algae. An organic material inspired by their biology, one that could capture a high number of photons in a very small surface area, could be very useful, for example, in sensors or technologies that communicate via light energy.

"It's become clear that the effects of molecular vibration can't be coincidence in cryptophyte algae--it is all fine-tuned--and so we'd really like to know how this same effect is engineered, and that will help us understand how the evolution of these organisms has trickled down toward these kinds of optimizations," Scholes says. "It would also be nice to work out how we can design a system that has this kind of optimization built in as opposed to randomly making supermolecular structures and seeing what happens."
-end-
This work was supported as part of the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC), an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the Basic Energy Sciences program of the US Department of Energy Office of Science and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Chem, Dean et al.: "Vibronic Enhancement of Algae Light Harvesting" http://www.cell.com/chem/fulltext/S2451-9294(16)30229-7

Chem (@Chem_CP) is the first physical science journal published by Cell Press. The sister journal to Cell, Chem provides a home for seminal and insightful research and showcases how fundamental studies in chemistry and its sub-disciplines may help in finding potential solutions to the global challenges of tomorrow. Visit http://www.cell.com/chem. To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Photons Articles:

Quantum physics: Ménage à trois photon-style
When two photons become entangled, the quantum state of the first will correlate perfectly with the quantum state of the second.
Converting absorbed photons into twice as many excitons: Successful high-efficiency energy conversion with organic monolayer on gold nanocluster surface
A group of researchers from Kobe and Keio universities found that when light was exposed to the surface of a tetracene alkanethiol-modified gold nanocluster, which they developed themselves, twice as many excitons could be converted compared to the number of photons absorbed by the tetracene molecules.
Illinois researchers create first three-photon color-entangled W state
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have constructed a quantum-mechanical state in which the colors of three photons are entangled with each other.
Robert Alfano team identifies new 'Majorana Photons'
Hailed as a pioneer by Photonics Media for his previous discoveries of supercontinuum and Cr tunable lasers, City College of New York Distinguished Professor of Science and Engineering Robert R.
Dresden physicists use nanostructures to free photons for highly efficient white OLEDs
Thanks to intensive research in the past three decades, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) have been steadily conquering the electronics market -- from OLED mobile phone displays to roll-out television screens, the list of applications is long.
Generating high-quality single photons for quantum computing
MIT researchers have designed a way to generate, at room temperature, more single photons for carrying quantum information.
Photons trained for optical fibre obstacle course will deliver stronger cyber security
Researchers from the NUS-Singtel Cyber Security Research & Development Laboratory demonstrate a way to improve quantum key distribution over fiber networks.
Researchers pinpoint origin of photons in mysterious gamma-ray bursts
Scientists from the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research and collaborators have used simulations to show that the photons emitted by long gamma-ray bursts -- one of the most energetic events to take place in the universe -- originate in the photosphere -- the visible portion of the 'relativistic jet' that is emitted by exploding stars.
Entangling photons of different colors
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a novel way to entangle two photons--one with a wavelength suitable for quantum-computing devices and the other for fiber-optics transmissions.
Quantum dots can spit out clone-like photons
MIT and ETH Zurich researchers have produced coherent single photon emitters, a key component for future quantum computers and communications systems.
More Photons News and Photons Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.