Making the Oxygen We Breathe, a Photosynthesis Mechanism Exposed

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We can all breath because of oxygen photosynthesis. Here, a diagram of a key O2 catalyst, the metal cluster in photosystem II, one of two O2 photosynthesis mechanisms. On top of it, a tyrosine molecule flips back and forth chemically and physically to speed up electron transfer in the oxygen-producing part of photosynthesis. Credit: Georgia Tech / Ben Brumfield / Barry Lab

The green reflects strong oxygen photosynthesis on Earth. Before it evolved, life on the planet was mostly single-cell, and life as we know it would die off without it. Photosynthesis is not in acute danger, but there are stresses that can break it down. Studying it may allow humanity to tweak it in the future, if ever needed, or even in the present to increase crop productivity. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / press photo

Photosystem II is a complex of larger molecules arranged in a protein structure. It includes beta-carotene, chlorophyll, a manganese-calcium-oxygen cluster and a supporting protein stabilizer, which looks like a woven tube, in aqua-green in this illustration. Breathable oxygen, or O2, is produced in the bottom center, at the cluster, which would be at the top of the tubular stabilizing weave. Credit: Curtis Neveu via Wiki Commons sharing license

The metal cluster of manganese, calcium and oxygen releases breathable oxygen from water. Tyrosine speeds the flow of electrons across the cluster that powers the multi-step reaction cycle by flipping around, both chemically and physically. The calcium component, depicted here on top of the cluster, appears to have a special interaction with the tyrosine. Credit: Georgia Tech / Barry / Guo

Zhanjun Guo was the photosystem II study's first author, who received his Ph.D. at Georgia Tech under Professor Bridgette Barry. Credit: Georgia Tech / Guo

Trees. Go outside and enjoy some. Taken for an article on photosynthesis. Credit: Georgia Tech / Ben Brumfield 

The sun shining through the leaves of a tree. Credit: Georgia Tech / Ben Brumfield