Photosynthesis and Light Harvesting in Algae

  • Anthony W. Larkum
Part of the Developments in Applied Phycology book series (DAPH, volume 6)


The eukaryotic algae display a spectacular diversity of light harvesting pigments and photosynthetic mechanisms. By contrast the Cyanobacteria on one side and the land plants on the other are uniformly dull. The Cyanobacteria make up for this relative uniformity in just one way: they have a much greater range of chlorophyll pigments, and in the case of chlorophyll d, this pigment does nearly all the heavy lifting in photosynthesis. The plastids of eukaryotic algae arose by endosymbiosis from Cyanobacteria, but during this phase of evolution, which lasted perhaps 1.5 billion years, many new structures and pigments evolved, giving the basis for the overall diversity. Three types of primary plastids occur today, the chloroplasts (Chlorophyta), the rhodoplasts (Rhodophyta) and the glaucoplasts (Glaucophyta), each with characteristic pigments and photosynthetic mechanisms. These primary lines became secondarily endosymbiotic, giving rise to secondary plastids and several evolutionary lines of eukaryotic algae. Here mention should be made of lines with chlorophyll c such as diatoms, with fucoxanthin as a main pigment, dinoflagellates with peridinin and other major members of the oceanic phytoplankton with a range of carotenoid pigments. And moving further down the evolutionary road one comes to the apicomplexans, which have lost their photosynthetic capacity but which retain an apicoplast and are important pathogens, such as the malaria organism. In all these photosynthetic, eukaryotic algae there has also been a development of mechanisms to cope with variable light, generally known as non-photochemical quenching, which is developed to a much greater extent compared to Cyanobacteria.


Apicoplast Carotenoid Chlorophyll Cyanobacteria Light harvesting Non-photochemical quenching Photoprotection Photosytems photosynthesis Primary plastid Secondary plastid Spillover Xanthophyll cycle 



This article is dedicated to my wife, Hilary, who died during its preparation. I also wish to thank my many colleagues for their support and stimulating discussions over many past years. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the generous support given by Prof P J Ralph and the University of Technology Sydney.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3)University of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia

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