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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2000 Oct 29;355(1402):1433-46.

Electron flow to oxygen in higher plants and algae: rates and control of direct photoreduction (Mehler reaction) and rubisco oxygenase.

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  • 1Molecular Plant Physiology Group, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra City, ACT.


Linear electron transport in chloroplasts produces a number of reduced components associated with photosystem I (PS I) that may subsequently participate in reactions that reduce O2. The two primary reactions that have been extensively studied are: first, the direct reduction of O2 to superoxide by reduced donors associated with PS I (the Mehler reaction), and second, the rubisco oxygenase (ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase EC reaction and associated peroxisomal and mitochondrial reactions of the photorespiratory pathway. This paper reviews a number of recent and past studies with higher plants, algae and cyanobacteria that have attempted to quantify O2 fluxes under various conditions and their contributions to a number of roles, including photon energy dissipation. In C3 and Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plants, a Mehler O2 uptake reaction is unlikely to support a significant flow of electron transport (probably less than 10%). In addition, if it were present it would appear to scale with photosynthetic carbon oxidation cycle (PCO) and photosynthetic carbon reduction cycle (PCR) activity This is supported by studies with antisense tobacco plants with reduced rubisco at low and high temperatures and high light, as well as studies with potatoes, grapes and madrone during water stress. The lack of significant Mehler in these plants directly argues for a strong control of Mehler reaction in the absence of ATP consumption by the PCR and PCO cycles. The difference between C3 and C4 plants is primarily that the level of light-dependent O2 uptake is generally much lower in C4 plants and is relatively insensitive to the external CO2 concentration. Such a major difference is readily attributed to the operation of the C4 CO2 concentrating mechanism. Algae show a range of light-dependent O2 uptake rates, similar to C4 plants. As in C4 plants, the O2 uptake appears to be largely insensitive to CO2, even in species that lack a CO2 concentrating mechanism and under conditions that are clearly limiting with respect to inorganic carbon supply. A part explanation for this could be that many algal rubsicos have considerably different oxygenase kinetic properties and exhibit far less oxygenase activity in air. This would lead to the conclusion that perhaps a greater proportion of the observed O2 uptake may be due to a Mehler reaction and less to rubisco, compared with C3 plants. In contrast to algae and higher plants, cyanobacteria appear to have a high capacity for Mehler O2 uptake, which appears to be not well coupled or limited by ATP consumption. It is likely that in all higher plants and algae, which have a well-developed non-photochemical quenching mechanism, non-radiative energy dissipation is the major mechanism for dissipating excess photons absorbed by the light-harvesting complexes under stressful conditions. However, for cyanobacteria, with a lack of significant non-photochemical quenching, the situation may well be different.

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