Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 101, Issue 1, pp 59–67 | Cite as

What governs the reaction center excitation wavelength of photosystems I and II?

  • Ron Milo
Regular Paper


The sun’s spectrum harvested through photosynthesis is the primary source of energy for life on earth. Plants, green algae, and cyanobacteria—the major primary producers on earth—utilize reaction centers that operate at wavelengths of 680 and 700 nm. Why were these wavelengths “chosen” in evolution? This study analyzes the efficiency of light conversion into chemical energy as a function of hypothetical reaction center absorption wavelengths given the sun’s spectrum and the overpotential cost associated with charge separation. Surprisingly, it is found here that when taking into account the empirical charge separation cost the range 680–720 nm maximizes the conversion efficiency. This suggests the possibility that the wavelengths of photosystem I and II were optimized at some point in their evolution for the maximal utilization of the sun’s spectrum.


Reaction center Optimality Spectrum Efficiency Chlorophyll 



Reaction center excitation energy





The author thanks Eran Bouchbinder for generous help with the thermodynamic analysis and Michael Brenner, William Parson, Robert Knox, John Bolton, Govindjee, Mary Archer, Marc Kirschner, Mike Springer, Sallie Chisholm, Bernhard Loll, Jacques Dumais, Deepak Barua, and Rafael Rubio de Casas for helpful discussions of the analysis and manuscript.

Supplementary material

11120_2009_9465_MOESM1_ESM.ppt (433 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PPT 433 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesWeizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael

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