When there is an imbalance between the light energy absorbed by a photosynthetic organism and that which can be utilized in photosynthesis, photo-oxidative stress can damage pigments, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. In this work we compared the wild type and a xanthophyll-deficient mutant of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in their response to high amounts of light. Wild-type Chlamydomonas cells were able to acclimate to high amounts of light following transfer from low light conditions. In contrast, the npq1 lor1 double mutant, which lacks protective xanthophylls (zeaxanthin and lutein) in the chloroplast, progressively lost viability and photosynthetic capacity along with destruction of thylakoid membrane protein-pigment complexes and accumulation of reactive oxygen species and membrane lipid peroxides. Loss of viability was partially rescued by lowered oxygen tension, suggesting that the high sensitivity of the mutant to light stress is caused by the production of reactive oxygen species in the chloroplast. Cell death was not prevented by the addition of an organic carbon source to the growth medium, demonstrating that the photo-oxidative damage can target other essential chloroplast processes besides photosynthesis. From the differential sensitivity of the mutant to exogenously added pro-oxidants, we infer that the reactive oxygen species produced during light stress in npq1 lor1 may be singlet oxygen and/or superoxide but not hydrogen peroxide. The bleaching phenotype of npq1 lor1 was not due to enhanced photodamage to photosystem II but rather to a less localized phenomenon of accumulation of photo-oxidation products in chloroplast membranes.
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