Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

A possible evolutionary origin for the Mn4 cluster of the photosynthetic water oxidation complex from natural MnO2 precipitates in the early ocean


The photosynthetic water oxidation complex consists of a cluster of 4 Mn atoms bridged by O atoms, associated with Ca2+ and Cl- and incorporated into protein. The structure is similar in higher plants and algae, as well as in cyanobacteria of more ancient lineage, dating back more than 2.5 Ga on Earth. It has been proposed that the proto-enzyme derived from a component of a natural early marine manganese precipitate that contained a CaMn4O9 cluster. A variety of MnO2 minerals is found in nature. Three major classes are spinels, sheet-like layered structures and 3-dimensional networks that contain parallel tunnels. These relatively open structures readily incorporate cations (Na+, Li+, Mg2+, Ca2+, Ba2+, H+ and even Mn2+) and water. The minerals have different ratios of Mn(III) and Mn(IV) octahedrally coordinated to oxygens. Using X-ray spectroscopy we compare the chemical structures of Mn in the minerals with what is known about the arrangement in the water-oxidation complex to define the parameters of a structural model for the photosynthetic catalytic site. This comparison provides for the structural model a set of candidate Mn4 clusters -- some previously proposed and considered and others entirely novel.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View