The initial electron transfer dynamics during photosynthesis have been studied in Rhodobacter sphaeroides reaction centers from wild type and 14 mutants in which the driving force and the kinetics of charge separation vary over a broad range. Surprisingly, the protein relaxation kinetics, as measured by tryptophan absorbance changes, are invariant in these mutants. By applying a reaction-diffusion model, we can fit the complex electron transfer kinetics of each mutant quantitatively, varying only the driving force. These results indicate that initial photosynthetic charge separation is limited by protein dynamics rather than by a static electron transfer barrier.
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