Photosynthesis pp 399-434 | Cite as

Photosynthetic Fractionation of Carbon Isotopes

  • Enrico Brugnoli
  • Graham D. Farquhar
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 9)


During photosynthetic CO2 fixation fractionation of stable carbon isotopes occurs and, consequently, plants are generally depleted in the heavier isotope 13C. Carbon isotope discrimination (Δ) is a measure of this process and depends on fractionation during diffusion and during enzymatic carboxylation reactions. Discrimination during photosynthesis has a significant, though relatively small, effect on the isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2 both at regional and global level; hence stable isotopes find relevant applications in the study of the global carbon cycle. In addition to variation in Δ among plants with different photosynthetic pathways, large variations are found within plant groups, resulting from genetic and environmental influences on the ratio of partial pressures of CO2 at the sites of carboxylation and that in the free turbulent atmosphere. Experimental evidences confirming the theory of carbon isotope discrimination and known complications are discussed. Carbon isotope composition also varies among different metabolites, compartments and plant organs as a result of fractionation during secondary metabolism and variation in the ratio of diffusional and carboxylation limitations. Special emphases are given to measurements of Δ in different carbon pools such as bulk dry matter, cellulose, starch and sucrose, with different turnover rates and different integration of p1/p8 and to the links with water-use efficiency. The application of carbon isotope discrimination to physiological and ecophysiological studies and to selection of genotypes with improved water-use efficiency and drought tolerance and the recent progress in this field are reviewed.


Carbon Isotope Carbon Isotope Composition Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Plant Cell Environ Bundle Sheath 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



isotope effect


carbon isotope composition relative to VPDB


carbon istotope discrimination


assimilation rate


fractionation during carboxylations


crassulacean acid metabolism


CO2 concentrating mechanism


mesophyll conductance


stomatial conductance


chloroplastic CO2 partial pressure




ratio of intercellular to atmospheric partial pressures of CO2


Pee Dee Belemnite


deisotope abundance ratio




Vienna Pee Dee Belemnite


photosynthetic water-use efficiency


water-use efficiency


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enrico Brugnoli
    • 1
  • Graham D. Farquhar
    • 2
  1. 1.Istituto per ľAgroselvicolturaCNRPorano (TR)Italy
  2. 2.Environmental Biology Group, Research School of Biological SciencesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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