Future prospects for clean, green, renewable energy may hinge upon our ability to mimic and improve upon photosynthesis – the process by which green plants, algae and some bacteria convert solar energy into electrochemical energy. An artificial version of photosynthesis, for example, could use sunlight to produce liquid fuels from nothing more than carbon dioxide and water. First, however, scientists need a better understanding of how a large complex of proteins, called photosystem II, is able to split water molecules into oxygen, electrons and hydrogen ions (protons).

Using ultrafast, intensely bright pulses of X-rays the research team produced the first ever images at room temperature of microcrystals of the photosystem II complex. Previous imaging studies, using X-rays generated via synchrotron radiation sources, required cryogenic freezing, which alters the samples. Also, to catalyze its reactions, photosystem II relies upon an enzyme that contains a manganese-calcium cluster that is highly sensitive to radiation. With the high-intensity femtosecond X-ray pulses of the LCLS, the research team was able to record intact images of these clusters before the radiation destroyed them.

“We have demonstrated that the ‘probe before destroy’ strategy of the LCLS is successful even for the highly-sensitive oxygen bridged manganese-calcium cluster in photosystem II at room temperature,” says Vittal Yachandra, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division. “This is an important step toward future studies for resolving the composition and atomic structure of the manganese-calcium cluster in the photosystem II complex during the critical formation of oxygen molecules.”

This story is reprinted from material from Berkeley Lab, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.