Light-induced changes within photosystem II protects Microcoleus sp. in biological desert sand crusts against excess Light

Itzhak Ohad, Hagai Raanan, Nir Keren, Dan Tchernov, Aaron Kaplan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


The filamentous cyanobacterium Microcoleus vaginatus, a major primary producer in desert biological sand crusts, is exposed to frequent hydration (by early morning dew) followed by desiccation during potentially damaging excess light conditions. Nevertheless, its photosynthetic machinery is hardly affected by high light, unlike "model" organisms whereby light-induced oxidative stress leads to photoinactivation of the oxygen-evolving photosystem II (PSII). Field experiments showed a dramatic decline in the fluorescence yield with rising light intensity in both drying and artificially maintained wet plots. Laboratory experiments showed that, contrary to "model" organisms, photosynthesis persists in Microcoleus sp. even at light intensities 2-3 times higher than required to saturate oxygen evolution. This is despite an extensive loss (85-90%) of variable fluorescence and thermoluminescence, representing radiative PSII charge recombination that promotes the generation of damaging singlet oxygen. Light induced loss of variable fluorescence is not inhibited by the electron transfer inhibitors 3-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)-1,1-dimethylurea (DCMU), 2,5-dibromo-3-methyl-6-isopropylbenzoquinone (DBMIB), nor the uncoupler carbonyl cyanide-p-trifluoromethoxyphenylhydrazone (FCCP), thus indicating that reduction of plastoquinone or O2, or lumen acidification essential for non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) are not involved. The rate of QA- re-oxidation in the presence of DCMU is enhanced with time and intensity of illumination. The difference in temperatures required for maximal thermoluminescence emissions from S2/QA- (Q band, 22°C) and S2,3/QB- (B band, 25°C) charge recombinations is considerably smaller in Microcoleus as compared to "model" photosynthetic organisms, thus indicating a significant alteration of the S2/QA- redox potential. We propose that enhancement of non-radiative charge recombination with rising light intensity may reduce harmful radiative recombination events thereby lowering 1O2 generation and oxidative photodamage under excess illumination. This effective photo-protective mechanism was apparently lost during the evolution from the ancestor cyanobacteria to the higher plant chloroplast.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere11000
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2010


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