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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Photon echo studies of photosynthetic light harvesting

  • Author(s): Read, Elizabeth L.
  • Lee, Hohjai
  • Fleming, Graham R.
  • et al.

The broad linewidths in absorption spectra of photosynthetic complexes obscure information related to their structure and function. Photon echo techniques represent a powerful class of time-resolved electronic spectroscopy that allow researchers to probe the interactions normally hidden under broad linewidths with sufficient time resolution to follow the fastest energy transfer events in light harvesting. Here, we outline the technical approach and applications of two types of photon echo experiments: the photon echo peak shift and two-dimensional (2D) Fourier transform photon echo spectroscopy. We review several extensions of these techniques to photosynthetic complexes. Photon echo peak shift spectroscopy can be used to determine the strength of coupling between a pigment and its surrounding environment including neighboring pigments and to quantify timescales of energy transfer. Two-dimensional spectroscopy yields a frequency-resolved map of absorption and emission processes, allowing coupling interactions and energy transfer pathways to be viewed directly. Furthermore, 2D spectroscopy reveals structural information such as the relative orientations of coupled transitions. Both classes of experiments can be used to probe the quantum mechanical nature of photosynthetic light-harvesting: peak shift experiments allow quantification of correlated energetic fluctuations between pigments, while 2D techniques measure quantum beating directly, both of which indicate the extent of quantum coherence over multiple pigment sites in the protein complex. The mechanistic and structural information obtained by these techniques reveals valuable insights into the design principles of photosynthetic light-harvesting complexes, and a multitude of variations on the methods outlined here.

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