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Light into the darkness of photosynthesis


Joint press release from Leibniz University Hannover and the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Multidisciplinary Sciences

For life on Earth, it is essential that plants carry out photosynthesis and ultimately produce oxygen and chemical energy with the help of sunlight. Researchers from Göttingen and Hannover have now succeeded for the first time in visualising the copying machine of chloroplasts, the RNA polymerase PEP, in high-resolution 3D. The detailed structure provides new insights into the function and evolution of this complex cellular machine, which plays a central role in reading the genetic instructions for photosynthesis proteins. 

Without photosynthesis, there would be no air to breathe – it is the basis of all life on Earth. This complex process allows plants to convert carbon dioxide and water into chemical energy and oxygen using light energy from the sun. The conversion takes place in the chloroplasts, the heart of photosynthesis. Chloroplasts developed in the course of evolution when the ancestors of today’s plant cells absorbed a photosynthetic cyanobacterium. Over time, the bacterium became increasingly dependent on its “host cell”, but maintained some significant functions such as photosynthesis and parts of the bacterial genome. The chloroplast therefore still has its own DNA, which contains the blueprints for crucial proteins of the “photosynthesis machinery”.


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