How nature designs light-harvesting antenna systems: Design principles and functional realization in chlorophototrophic prokaryotes

Donald A. Bryant, Daniel P. Canniffe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Chlorophyll-based phototrophs, or chlorophototrophs, convert light energy into stored chemical potential energy using two types of photochemical reaction center (RC), denoted type-1 and type-2. After excitation with light, a so-called special pair of chlorophylls in the RC is oxidized, and an acceptor is reduced. To ensure that RCs function at maximal rates in diffuse and variable light conditions, chlorophototrophs have independently evolved diverse light-harvesting antenna systems to rapidly and efficiently transfer that energy to the RCs. Energy transfer between weakly coupled chromophores is generally believed to proceed by resonance energy transfer, a dipole-induced-dipole process that was initially described theoretically by Förster. Nature principally optimizes three parameters in antenna systems: the distance separating the donor and acceptor chromophores, the relative orientations of those chromophores, and the spectral overlap between the donor and the acceptor chromophores. However, there are other important biological parameters that nature has optimized, and some common themes emerge from comparisons of different antenna systems. This tutorial considers structural and functional characteristics of three fundamentally different light-harvesting antenna systems of chlorophotrophic bacteria: phycobilisomes of cyanobacteria, the light-harvesting complexes (LH1 and LH2) of purple bacteria, and chlorosomes of green bacteria. Phycobilisomes are generally considered to represent an antenna system in which the chromophores are weakly coupled, while the strongly coupled bacteriochlorophyll molecules in LH1 and LH2 are strongly coupled and are better described by exciton theory. Chlorosomes can contain up to 250 000 bacteriochlorophyll molecules, which are very strongly coupled and form supramolecular, nanotubular arrays. The general and specific principles that have been optimized by natural selection during the evolution of these diverse light-harvesting antenna systems are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number033001
JournalJournal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 17 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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