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Gene. 2000 Nov 27;258(1-2):1-8.

The family of light-harvesting-related proteins (LHCs, ELIPs, HLIPs): was the harvesting of light their primary function?

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CEA/Cadarache, DSV, DEVM, Laboratoire de Radiobiologie végétale, 13108 cedex, Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, France.


Light-harvesting complex proteins (LHCs) and early light-induced proteins (ELIPs) are essential pigment-binding components of the thylakoid membrane and are encoded by one of the largest and most complex higher plant gene families. The functional diversification of these proteins corresponded to the transition from extrinsic (phycobilisome-based) to intrinsic (LHC-based) light-harvesting antenna systems during the evolution of chloroplasts from cyanobacteria, yet the functional basis of this diversification has been elusive. Here, we propose that the original function of LHCs and ELIPs was not to collect light and to transfer its energy content to the reaction centers but to disperse the absorbed energy of light in the form of heat or fluorescence. These energy-dispersing proteins are believed to have originated in cyanobacteria as one-helix, highly light-inducible proteins (HLIPs) that later acquired four helices through two successive gene duplication steps. We suggest that the ELIPs arose first in this succession, with a primary function in energy dispersion for protection of photosynthetic pigments from photo-oxidation. We consider the LHC I and II families as more recent and very successful evolutionary additions to this family that ultimately attained a new function, thereby replacing the ancestral extrinsic light-harvesting system. Our model accounts for the non-photochemical quenching role recently shown for higher plant psbS proteins.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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