They messed up the way a plant does it and learned something in the process:
Nearly 35 years ago, when the first structure of these types of complexes was unveiled, scientists were surprised to discover that after the absorption of light, the electron transfer processes faced a dilemma: there are two possible pathways for the electron to travel.
In nature, plants, algae and photosynthetic bacteria use just one of them — and scientists had no idea why.
What they did know was that the propulsion of the electron across the membrane — effectively harvesting the energy of the photon — required multiple steps.
Argonne and Washington University scientists have managed to interfere with each one of them to change the electron’s trajectory.
“We’ve been on this trail for more than three decades, and it is a great accomplishment that opens up many opportunities,” said Dewey Holten, a chemist at Washington University.
The scientists’ recent article, “Switching sides — Reengineered primary charge separation in the bacterial photosynthetic reaction center,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how they discovered an engineered version of this protein complex that switched the utilization of the pathways, enabling the one that was inactive while disabling the other.DOE/Argonne National Laboratory, “Scientists unravel mystery of photosynthesis” at ScienceDaily
Actually, it’s not clear from the release whether we are any closer to understanding why plants always choose the other direction, left to themselves. Something more is going on, probably. Nice find though.
See also: Researchers: Photosynthesis may be a billion years older than we thought