Evolution of photosynthesis

Annu Rev Plant Biol. 2011;62:515-48. doi: 10.1146/annurev-arplant-042110-103811.


Energy conversion of sunlight by photosynthetic organisms has changed Earth and life on it. Photosynthesis arose early in Earth's history, and the earliest forms of photosynthetic life were almost certainly anoxygenic (non-oxygen evolving). The invention of oxygenic photosynthesis and the subsequent rise of atmospheric oxygen approximately 2.4 billion years ago revolutionized the energetic and enzymatic fundamentals of life. The repercussions of this revolution are manifested in novel biosynthetic pathways of photosynthetic cofactors and the modification of electron carriers, pigments, and existing and alternative modes of photosynthetic carbon fixation. The evolutionary history of photosynthetic organisms is further complicated by lateral gene transfer that involved photosynthetic components as well as by endosymbiotic events. An expanding wealth of genetic information, together with biochemical, biophysical, and physiological data, reveals a mosaic of photosynthetic features. In combination, these data provide an increasingly robust framework to formulate and evaluate hypotheses concerning the origin and evolution of photosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Chlorophyll / metabolism
  • Chlorophyll / physiology
  • Electron Transport
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / physiology
  • Photosynthesis / physiology*
  • Photosynthetic Reaction Center Complex Proteins / physiology
  • Plant Proteins / physiology
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Plants / microbiology
  • Quinones / metabolism
  • Sensory Rhodopsins / physiology
  • Sunlight
  • Symbiosis


  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins
  • Photosynthetic Reaction Center Complex Proteins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Quinones
  • Sensory Rhodopsins
  • Chlorophyll
  • Carbon