The time course of adaptation from a high to a low photon flux density was studied in the marine chlorophyte Dunaliella tertiolecta. A one-step transition from 700 to 70 micromole quanta per square meter per second resulted in a reduction of doubling rate from 1.1 to 0.4 per day within 24 hours, followed by a slower accumulation of photosynthetic pigments, light harvesting antenna complexes, Photosystem II reaction centers and structural lipids that constitute the thylakoid membranes. Photoregulated changes in the biochemical composition of the thylakoid proteins and lipids were functionally accompanied by decreases in the minimal photosynthetic quantum requirement and photosynthetic capacity, and an increase in the minimal turnover time for in vivo electron transport from water to CO(2). Analysis of de novo synthesis of thylakoid membranes and proteins indicates that a high light to low light transition leads to a transient in carbon metabolism away from lipid biosynthesis toward the synthesis of the light harvesting antenna protein complexes, accompanied by a slower restoration rate of reaction centers and thylakoid membranes. This pattern of sequential synthesis of light harvesting complexes followed by reaction centers and membranes, appears to optimize light harvesting capabilities as cells adapt to low photon flux densities.
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