Article

Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 419-430

Origin and evolution of photosynthetic reaction centers

  • John M. OlsonAffiliated withInstitute of Biochemistry, Odense University
  • , Beverly K. PiersonAffiliated withBiology Department, University of Puget Sound

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Abstract

The prototype reaction center may have used protoporphyrin-IX associated with small peptides to transfer electrons or protons across the primitive cell membrane. The precursor of all contemporary reaction centers contained chlorophylla molecules as both primary electron donor and initial electron acceptor and an Fe-S center as secondary acceptor (RC-1 type). The biosynthetic pathway for chlorophylla evolved along with the evolution of a better organized reaction center associated with cytochromes and quinones in a primitive cyclic electron transport system. This reaction center probably functioned initially in photoassimilation, but was easily adapted to CO2 fixation using H2 and H2S as reductants. During this phase bacteriochlorophyllg may have evolved from chlorophylla in response to competition for light, and thereby initiated the gram-positive line of eubacteria. A second reaction center (RC-2) evolved from RC-1 between 3.5 and 2.5 Ga ago in response to the competition for reductants for CO2 fixation. The new organism containing RC-2 in series with RC-1 would have been able to use poor reducing agents such as the abundant aqueous ferrous ion in place of H2 and H2S. This new organism is proposed to be the common ancestor of all phototrophic eubacteria except those related to the gram-positive bacteria. All organisms containing bacteriochlorophylla lost either RC-1 or RC-2, while those organisms containing chlorophylla (ancestors of cyanobacteria) added a water-splitting enzyme to RC-2 between 3.0 and 2.5 Ga ago in order to use H2O in place of hydrated ferrous ion as electron donor for autotrophic photosynthesis.