back to article I've seen things you wouldn't believe, like an atom about to photosynthesize

Photosynthesis – the process by which plants and some other organisms convert sunlight to food – is complex, and scientists don't fully understand how it works. But a team of researchers led by the US Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory reckon they're closer to solving the mystery – they captured an image …

  1. ThatOne Silver badge

    Wait a minute -

    > Zapping the cyanobacteria with the laser and measuring the diffraction patterns

    They actually just zapped the Photosystem II protein, didn't they?

    I mean, cyanobacteria, albeit small, contain a lot of other unrelated things, and zapping them whole would be rather pointless, wouldn't it.

  2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Interesting to read, I had no idea that the process of photosynthesis was still so poorly understood. Amazing work!

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Pretty much all of the basics that are just skipped over, it's because we don't actually know in very much detail at all.



      Smell / taste.

      We have a vague model, we know what's going in and out, but the actual workings are a black box for the most part.

      If we *knew* how they work, we'd have actual, proper, real, intelligent AI. We'd have buildings that would make their own food from the sun falling on their roofs. And we'd have robots that could tell you that the wine is off, and the recipe for Coca Cola was this, and industrial computers that are able to smell leaks in factories.

      We have "some of" that kind of thing, via very limited mechanical means, but nothing anywhere approaching even a basic plant or insect's capabilities or senses.

      1. jemmyww

        Knowing how something works is a step, but that doesn't necessarily translate into being able to reproduce it. It's also not always the first step, many times we've done something and understood it later.

        1. adam 40 Silver badge

          It's a step, but even if we know how a neuron works it doesn't necessarily mean we can make an intelligent brain up to human standards. After all there are plenty of animal brains out there of similar size that don't have human intelligence. Even amongst the population of all humans, there are some that are non-functional, sub-par etc.

      2. MrDamage Silver badge

        We do know how neurons, and the sense of smell/taste works. It's just our brains refuse to tell us.

      3. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: If we *knew* how they work...

        Would it also help with phone alarms going off at the right time?

    2. Mike 125

      > I had no idea that the process of photosynthesis was still so poorly understood

      You beat me to it. It's humbling. What strange priorities we have- space, bombs and bullets before even a blade of grass.

      But I suppose some damn smart machines are needed to analyse what happens when complex molecules interact "for more than three billion years."

  3. Lee D Silver badge

    "Scientists could potentially reproduce the chemical reaction to create new fuels that use sunlight to make clean energy. "

    Why would you make energy from sunlight by photosynthesis - that's just more steps in the process of using... energy. And it would require a source of the proteins to be constantly manufactured. Animals do it so they can utilise the sun's energy to break down larger chemicals, with oxygen as a vented by-product, because they can't use the energy directly.

    What you *could* do is make oxygen generation more efficient, presumably. Or even apply to other molecules to enable solar-powered chemical processes, at the expense of other chemicals/proteins.

    But you aren't going to make a "new fuel", are you? You're going to make a "new catalyst", maybe.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Where to start?

      It's plants and cyanobacteria, not animals, that photosynthesise and they do so to build more complex molecules out of inorganic molecules: carbon dioxide, water, natrates, phosphates etc.

      We wouldn't "make" energy from light. Light is energy. Photosynthesis uses it.

      Why would we want to use it industrially? To harness energy either to make electricity or to have a CO2 to fuel process that's more efficient than having to process plant material to make something like biodiesel. If that were possible we could avoid all the complications of switching to EVs whilst not adding to atmospheric CO2 - we'd just be circulating carbon between the atmosphere and stored fuel.

      1. snowpages

        From the article

        "Scientists could potentially reproduce the chemical reaction to create new fuels that use sunlight to make clean energy. "

  4. mmccul


    The LCLS system is actually a really nifty idea. "We know that if we shine a light on this, it'll destroy the sample, so let's shine a light ten million times brighter instead." Then they just have to collect femtosecond precision results to assemble the pictures. A lot of really interesting tech in it.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pics! Where are the pics?


    1. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: Pics! Where are the pics?

      They're very small.

      1. Robin

        Re: Pics! Where are the pics?

        Or far away.

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Pics! Where are the pics?

      They merged with the Dál Riata, and eventually absorbed by the Scots.

    3. LionelB Silver badge

      Re: Pics! Where are the pics?

      They're in the cells - pic-cells.

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    I dont believe anyone has seen an atom about to photosynthesize.

    Take part in perhaps but never on its own.

  7. myhandler

    Fascinating. There's more of this, though a lot is conjecture, in Prof Nick Lane's book The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is? - which looks at how life might have started.

  8. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Any which way but loose...

    Mind blown so many times reading this article...

  9. Corporate Scum

    Raise one lads

    This is some proper science.

    A pint from me if I should ever meet any of them.

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