A photosynthetic antenna complex foregoes unity carotenoid-to-bacteriochlorophyll energy transfer efficiency to ensure photoprotection

Dariusz M. Niedzwiedzki, David J.K. Swainsbury, Daniel P. Canniffe, C. Neil Hunter, Andrew Hitchcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Carotenoids play a number of important roles in photosynthesis, primarily providing light-harvesting and photoprotective energy dissipation functions within pigment-protein complexes. The carbon-carbon double bond (C=C) conjugation length of carotenoids (N), generally between 9 and 15, determines the carotenoid-to-(bacterio)chlorophyll [(B)Chl] energy transfer efficiency. Here we purified and spectroscopically characterized light-harvesting complex 2 (LH2) from Rhodobacter sphaeroides containing the N = 7 carotenoid zeta (ζ)-carotene, not previously incorporated within a natural antenna complex. Transient absorption and time-resolved fluorescence show that, relative to the lifetime of the S1 state of ζ-carotene in solvent, the lifetime decreases ∼250-fold when ζ-carotene is incorporated within LH2, due to transfer of excitation energy to the B800 and B850 BChls a. These measurements show that energy transfer proceeds with an efficiency of ∼100%, primarily via the S1 → Qx route because the S1 → S0 fluorescence emission of ζ-carotene overlaps almost perfectly with the Qx absorption band of the BChls. However, transient absorption measurements performed on microsecond timescales reveal that, unlike the native N ≥ 9 carotenoids normally utilized in light-harvesting complexes, ζ-carotene does not quench excited triplet states of BChl a, likely due to elevation of the ζ-carotene triplet energy state above that of BChl a. These findings provide insights into the coevolution of photosynthetic pigments and pigment-protein complexes. We propose that the N ≥ 9 carotenoids found in light-harvesting antenna complexes represent a vital compromise that retains an acceptable level of energy transfer from carotenoids to (B)Chls while allowing acquisition of a new, essential function, namely, photoprotective quenching of harmful (B)Chl triplets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6502-6508
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2020


  • Carotenoids
  • Light-harvesting
  • Photoprotection
  • Photosynthesis
  • Ultrafast spectroscopy

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