Toggle Accessibility Tools

A new method to reveal the molecular landscapes of photosynthetic membranes inside green algae cells

A collaboration with Max Planck Institutes in Germany has led to a new visualization approach that produces a topological view of these native membranes.


Image of photosynthetic membranes produced by the new visualization method
Image of photosynthetic membranes produced by the new visualization method.

Scientific Achievement

The latest advances in cryo-electron tomography were used to image photosynthetic protein complexes embedded within native thylakoid membranes inside the cell.

Significance and Impact

This high-resolution imaging revealed how the intricate network of thylakoid membranes sorts protein complexes into distinct regions to tune the photosynthetic reactions. A surprising discovery shows how large Photosystem II supercomplexes may be able to move fluidly through the crowded membranes, maintaining efficient capture of light energy and transfer of electrons to other complexes.

Research Details

  • A new visualization approach called a ‘membranogram’ projects tomographic images of the proteins onto the surface of the segmented membrane, producing a molecular view of native membrane topology.
  • PSII were mostly found in the appressed region, whereas PSI, ATP synthase and ribosomes were restricted to the non-appressed region, and Cytb6f were found with equal abundance in both regions.
  • PSII supercomplexes randomly overwrap between appressed membranes, apparently not maintaining stacking.

Related people: Wojciech Wietrzynski, Miroslava Schaffer, Dimitry Tegunov, Sahradha Albert, Atsuko Kanazawa, Jürgen M Plitzko, Wolfgang Baumeister, Benjamin D Engel (CA)

DOI: 10.7554/eLife.53740

Download the highlight

This work was partially funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Contributions from Dr. Kanazawa, from the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, include: Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, and 77K measurements

Top Stories

Thomas Sharkey receives NSF grant to study isoprene emission from plants Thomas Sharkey receives NSF grant to study isoprene emission from plants

The four-year, $898,946 grant from the National Science Foundation will allow Sharkey to continue his research on the evolutionary pattern of the appearance and loss of isoprene emission among various land plants and the impact of these emissions have on the atmosphere.

Improving Photosynthesis: The Final Frontier? [LINK] Improving Photosynthesis: The Final Frontier? [LINK]

This long-from article details how our scientists are working to unlock the secrets of photosynthesis, an effort which might spur an agricultural revolution and lead to innovative energy and industrial technologies. The article appears in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch.

NSF-funded project explores plant metabolism links to climate change, human nutrition NSF-funded project explores plant metabolism links to climate change, human nutrition

MSU plant biologist Berkley Walker is part of a team of scientists that is using a 3-year, $1.4 million National Science Foundation  Molecular and Cellular Biosciences award to explore the intersection between photorespiration and one-carbon metabolism, two plant biochemical processes that are critical to plant growth and human nutrition.