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  • Imaging Photosynthetic Dynamics
May 2010
GOTHENBURG, Sweden, May 11, 2010 — Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have managed, with the help of an advanced x-ray flash, to photograph the movement of atoms during photosynthesis.

Photograph of a photosynthetic reaction taken with an 80-ms x-ray pulse.

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble is home to one of the world’s most advanced particle accelerators, whose pulsing x-ray beams are used by researchers to study atoms, molecules and proteins. Using the facility as a sort of special x-ray camera, scientists can depict the position of atoms in a molecule and obtain a 3-D image of something that is smaller than a billionth of a meter. Researchers at the department of chemistry at the University of Gothenburg and at Chalmers University of Technology, also in Gothenburg, have now used this advanced technology to photograph the dynamics of life’s most fundamental system: photosynthesis.

The focus of the study was a protein that is central to the conversion of light to chemical energy during photosynthesis. The x-ray image shows how the protein temporarily stores the light energy immediately before a chemical bond forms – a movement that takes place on a scale of less than a nanometer. The Gothenburg researchers are the first to successfully acquire an image of this process.

The photograph is not only a fascinating snapshot of the very core of life, but could also be used in the solar panels of the future, where researchers hope to be able to imitate the sophisticated energy conversion of photosynthesis.

The researchers’ efforts are described in the April 30 issue of Science.

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