Washington: A new study has shown the first snapshots of photosynthesis in action as it splits water into protons, electrons and oxygen, the process that maintains Earth`s oxygen atmosphere.
Petra Fromme, lead author of the research said that this study is the first step towards their ultimate goal of unraveling the secrets of water splitting and obtaining molecular movies of biomolecules.
In photosynthesis, oxygen is produced at a special metal site containing four manganese atoms and one calcium atom connected together as a metal cluster, which is bound to the protein PSII that catalyzes the light driven process of water splitting and requires four light flashes to extract one molecule of oxygen from two water molecules bound to the metal cluster.
The goal of development of an "artificial leaf" of the ASU Center for Bio-Inspired Solar Fuel Production, which was the main supporter of this study, can now be achieved on the basis of this revelation of the mechanism of this water splitting process.
Fromme states that the trick is to use the world`s most powerful X-ray laser, named LCLS located at the Department of Energy`s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which works on a principle called `diffraction before destruction, where extremely fast femtosecond (10 -15 second) laser pulses record snapshots of the PSII crystals before they explode in the X-ray beam.
In this way, snapshots of the process of water splitting are obtained damage free. The ultimate goal of the work is to record molecular movies of water splitting.
This ASU-led study is published today in Nature.