Chemiosmosis and ATP synthesis

The components of non-cyclic phosphorylation are found in the thylakoid membranes of the chloroplast. Electrons passing through the transport chain provide energy to pump H+ ions from the stroma, across the thylakoid membrane into the thylakoid compartment. H+ ions are more concentrated in the thylakoid compartment than in the stroma. We say there is an electrochemical gradient. H+ ions diffuse from the high to the low regions of concentration. This drives the production of ATP.


Chemiosmosis as it operates in photophosphorylation within a chloroplast

Cyclic phosphorylation

The net effect of non-cyclic phosphorylation is to pass electrons from water to NADP. Energy released enables the production of ATP. But much more ATP is needed to drive the light-independent reactions.

This extra energy is obtained from cyclic phosphorylation. This involves only Photosystem I which generates excited electrons. These are transferred to the electron transport chain between PSII and PSI, rather than to NADP+ and so no NADPH is formed. The cycle is completed by electrons being transported back to PSI by the electron transport system.

The light-independent reactions

In the Light-Independent Process (the Dark reaction) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (or water for aquatic/marine organisms) is captured and modified by the addition of hydrogen to form carbohydrates. The incorporation of carbon dioxide into organic compounds is known as carbon fixation. The energy for this comes from the first phase of the photosynthetic process. Living systems cannot directly utilize light energy, but can, through a complicated series of reactions, convert it into C-C bond energy that can be released by glycolysis and other metabolic processes.

Carbon dioxide combines with a five-carbon sugar, ribulose 1,5-biphosphate (RuBP). A six-carbon sugar forms but is unstable. Each molecule breaks down to form two glycerate 3-phosphate (GP) molecules.

reaction sequence

These glycerate 3-phosphate (GP) molecules are phosphorylated by ATP into glycerate diphosphate molecules.

glycerate diphosphate

These are reduced by NADPH to two molecules of glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate (GALP).

glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate

Of each pair of GALP molecules produced:

  • one molecule is the initial end product of photosynthesis; it is quickly converted to glucose and other carbohydrates, lipids or amino acids
  • one molecule forms RuBP through a series of chemical reactions

The first steps in the Calvin cycle

The first stable product of the Calvin Cycle is phosphoglycerate (PGA), a 3-C chemical. The energy from ATP and NADPH energy carriers generated by the photosystems is used to phosphorylate the PGA. Eventually there are 12 molecules of glyceraldehyde phosphate (also known as phosphoglyceraldehyde or PGAL, a 3-C), two of which are removed from the cycle to make a glucose. The remaining PGAL molecules are converted by ATP energy to reform six RuBP molecules, and thus start the cycle again.


The light-dependent reactions
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