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Photosynth Res. 1990;24:47-53.

A reverse KREBS cycle in photosynthesis: consensus at last.

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Division of Molecular Plant Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720, USA.
U CA, Berkeley


The Krebs cycle (citric acid or tricarboxylic acid cycle), the final common pathway in aerobic metabolism for the oxidation of carbohydrates, fatty acids and amino acids, is known to be irreversible. It liberates CO2 and generates NADH whose aerobic oxidation yields ATP but it does not operate in reverse as a biosynthetic pathway for CO2 assimilation. In 1966, our laboratory described a cyclic pathway for CO2 assimilation (Evans, Buchanan and Arnon 1966) that was unusual in two respects: (i) it provided the first instance of an obligate photoautotroph that assimilated CO2 by a pathway different from Calvin's reductive pentose phosphate cycle (Calvin 1962) and (ii) in its overall effect the new cycle was a reversal of the Krebs cycle. Named the 'reductive carboxylic acid cycle' (sometimes also called the reductive tricarboxylic acid cycle) the new cycle appeared to be the sole CO2 assimilation pathway in Chlorobium thiosulfatophilum (Evans et al. 1966) (now known as Chlorobium limicola forma thiosulfatophilum). Chlorobium is a photosynthetic green sulfur bacterium that grows anaerobically in an inorganic medium with sulfide and thiosulfate as electron donors and CO2 as an obligatory carbon source. In the ensuing years, the new cycle was viewed with skepticism. Not only was it in conflict with the prevailing doctrine that the 'one important property ... shared by all (our emphasis) autotrophic species is the assimilation of CO2 via the Calvin cycle' (McFadden 1973) but also some of its experimental underpinnings were challenged. It is only now that in the words of one of its early skeptics (Tabita 1988) 'a long and tortuous controversy' has ended with general acceptance of the reductive carboxylic acid cycle as a photosynthetic CO2 assimilation pathway distinct from the pentose cycle. (Henceforth, to minimize repetitiveness, the reductive pentose phosphate cycle will often be referred to as the pentose cycle and the reductive carboxylic acid cycle as the carboxylic acid cycle.) Aside from photosynthetic pathways which are the focus of this article, CO2 assimilation is also known to sustain autotrophic growth via the acetyl-CoA pathway (Wood et al. 1986). Our aim here is to discuss (i) the findings that led our group to the discovery of the reductive carboxylic acid cycle, (ii) the nature and resolution of the controversy that followed, and (iii) the possible evolutionary implications of the cycle as an ancient mechanism for photosynthetic CO2 assimilation that preceded the pentose cycle and served as a precursor of the Krebs cycle in aerobic metabolism.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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