Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 140, Issue 2, pp 235–252 | Cite as

Discovery of the canonical Calvin–Benson cycle

  • Thomas D. SharkeyEmail author
History and Biography


It has been 65 years since the Calvin–Benson cycle was first formulated. In this paper, the development of the concepts that are critical to the cycle is traced and the contributions of Calvin, Benson, and Bassham are discussed. Some simplified views often found in text books such as ascending paper chromatography and the use of the “lollipop” for short labeling are discussed and further details given. Key discoveries that underpinned elucidation of the cycle such as the importance of sedoheptulose phosphate and ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate are described. The interchange of ideas between other researchers working on what is now called the pentose phosphate pathway and the development of the ideas of Calvin and Benson are explored while the gluconeogenic aspects of the cycle are emphasized. Concerns raised about anomalies of label distribution in glucose are considered. Other carbon metabolism pathways associated with the Calvin–Benson cycle are also described. Finally, there is a section describing the rift between Calvin and Benson.


Bassham Benson Calvin Calvin–Benson cycle 14CO2 Gluconeogenesis Pentose phosphate pathway Rubisco 



My research on the carbon metabolism of photosynthesis is supported by U.S. Department of Energy Grant DE-FG02-91ER2002. Partial salary support came from Michigan AgBioResearch. I thank Sean Weise for finding the original use of “rubisco”, Joe Berry for telling me about the fisherman in Fig. 6, and Christoph Benning for the loan of the lollipop from Ed Tolbert’s lab.

Supplementary material

11120_2018_600_MOESM1_ESM.pptx (575 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PPTX 574 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MSU DOE Plant Research Laboratory, Plant Resilience Institute, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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