Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 95–112

‘Evolution of Photosynthesis’ (1970), re-examined thirty years later

  • John M. Olson

DOI: 10.1023/A:1011807229154

Cite this article as:
Olson, J.M. Photosynthesis Research (2001) 68: 95. doi:10.1023/A:1011807229154


I have re-examined my 1970 article ‘Evolution of Photosynthesis’ (Olson JM, Science 168: 438–446) to see whether any of my original proposals still survive. My original conviction that the evolution of photosynthesis was intimately connected with the origin of life has been replaced with the realization that photosynthesis may have been invented by the Bacteria after their divergence from the Archea. The common ancestor of all extant photosynthetic bacteria and cyanobacteria probably contained bacteriochlorophyll a, rather than chlorophyll a as originally proposed, and may have carried out CO2 fixation instead of photoassimilation. The first electron donors were probably reduced sulfur compounds and later ferrous iron. The common ancestor of all extant reaction centers was probably similar to the homodimeric RC1 of present-day green sulfur bacteria (Chlorobiaceae) and heliobacteria. In the common ancestor of proteobacteria and cyanobacteria, the gene for the primordial RC1 was apparently duplicated and one copy split into two genes, one for RC2 and the other for a chlorophyll protein similar to CP43 and CP47 in extant cyanobacteria and chloroplasts. Homodimeric RC1 and homodimeric RC2 functioned in series as in the Z-scheme to deliver electrons from Fe(OH)+ to NADP+, while RC1 and/or RC2 separately drove cyclic electron flow for the production of ATP. In the line of evolution leading to proteobacteria, RC1 and the chlorophyll protein were lost, but RC2 was retained and became heterodimeric. In the line leading to cyanobacteria, both RC1 and RC2 replaced bacteriochlorophyll a with chlorophyll a and became heterodimeric. Heterodimeric RC2 further coevolved with a Mn-containing complex to utilize water as the electron donor for CO2 fixation. The chlorophyll–protein was also retained and evolved into CP43 and CP47. Heliobacteria are the nearest photosynthetic relatives of cyanobacteria. The branching order of photosynthetic genes appears to be (1) proteobacteria, (2) green bacteria (Chlorobiaceae plus Chloroflexaceae), and (3) heliobacteria plus cyanobacteria.

chlorophyll synthesis common ancestor cyanobacteria cytochrome b electron donors for CO2 fixation evolution of photosynthesis green bacteria heliobacteria proteobacteria reaction center 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • John M. Olson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Lederle Graduate Research CenterUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

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