Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 91–111

Origin and early evolution of photosynthesis

  • Robert E. Blankenship


Photosynthesis was well-established on the earth at least 3.5 thousand million years ago, and it is widely believed that these ancient organisms had similar metabolic capabilities to modern cyanobacteria. This requires that development of two photosystems and the oxygen evolution capability occurred very early in the earth's history, and that a presumed phase of evolution involving non-oxygen evolving photosynthetic organisms took place even earlier. The evolutionary relationships of the reaction center complexes found in all the classes of currently existing organisms have been analyzed using sequence analysis and biophysical measurements. The results indicate that all reaction centers fall into two basic groups, those with pheophytin and a pair of quinones as early acceptors, and those with iron sulfur clusters as early acceptors. No simple linear branching evolutionary scheme can account for the distribution patterns of reaction centers in existing photosynthetic organisms, and lateral transfer of genetic information is considered as a likely possibility. Possible scenarios for the development of primitive reaction centers into the heterodimeric protein structures found in existing reaction centers and for the development of organisms with two linked photosystems are presented.

Key words

evolution, origin of life reaction center chlorophyll bacteriochlorophyll Chloroflexus aurantiacus heliobacteria 





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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert E. Blankenship
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Center for the Study of Early Events in PhotosynthesisArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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