Green plants protect themselves against too much sunlight by transferring energy at lightning speed to lutein, the yellow pigment in plants, and then converting it into harmless warmth. An international team of scientists, including the Wageningen biophysicist Professor Herbert van Amerongen, published its findings in Nature on Thursday 22 November.
In the latest experiments with leaves of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the scientists show how chlorophyll pigment in the light-harvesting complex absorbs the light and transfers the energy to lutein. This yellow pigment, which is only found in plants, functions as a molecular dimmer switch. The mechanism explains how plants protect themselves against damage from sunlight. The knowledge is useful for growing plants in very hot areas. The development also brings a new generation of efficient solar cells closer by.
The research team was led by biophysicist Professor Rienk van Grondelle of the VU University in Amsterdam and the British biochemist Professor Peter Horten of the University of Sheffield.