How do plants protect themselves from too much sunlight?

A team of physicists from Amsterdam and chemists from Leiden, led by VU biophysicist John Kennis, have demonstrated that the photosynthetic protein PsbS changes shape in response to excess sunlight.

04/22/2021 | 10:39 AM

The results of the team’s study have been published in Nature Communications. The aim of their research was to investigate the molecular mechanism by which plants protect themselves from too much sunlight during photosynthesis. They showed how a key photosynthetic protein called PsbS changes shape in response to excess light, activating a protection mechanism for the plant.

Food security
New knowledge about the mechanisms behind photosynthesis can make a big difference. By optimizing photosynthesis, overall food production and the drought tolerance of specific crops can be improved. This can help to ensure global food security in a changing climate.

The research was conducted at VU Amsterdam’s LaserLaB, as well as at other facilities. Besides John Kennis, VU scientist Patrick Konold also participated in the study. Using advanced infrared laser spectroscopy, the scientists were able to observe essential structural changes in the protein structure of PsbS.

2.8 million euros
The article in Nature Communications will not be the last publication on this protein to be published by Kennis’s research group. At the start of 2020, the research consortium Nanoscale Regulators of Photosynthesis, in which Kennis is also involved together with his VU colleague Roberta Croce, was awarded an NWO Open Competition ENW-GROOT grant. The consortium was awarded 2.8 million euros for five years of PsbS research.

Caption: This is the protein structure of PsbS. The two glutamate side chains (in yellow) sense the excess sunlight inside the photosynthetic membrane and react by locally restructuring the protein at the blue and pink sections. This restructuring process then triggers a protection mechanism.