Evolution of the Z-scheme of photosynthesis: a perspective

Photosynth Res. 2017 Sep;133(1-3):5-15. doi: 10.1007/s11120-016-0333-z. Epub 2017 Feb 3.


The concept of the Z-scheme of oxygenic photosynthesis is in all the textbooks. However, its evolution is not. We focus here mainly on some of the history of its biophysical aspects. We have arbitrarily divided here the 1941-2016 period into three sub-periods: (a) Origin of the concept of two light reactions: first hinted at, in 1941, by James Franck and Karl Herzfeld; described and explained, in 1945, by Eugene Rabinowitch; and a clear hypothesis, given in 1956 by Rabinowitch, of the then available cytochrome experiments: one light oxidizing it and another reducing it; (b) Experimental discovery of the two light reactions and two pigment systems and the Z-scheme of photosynthesis: Robert Emerson's discovery, in 1957, of enhancement in photosynthesis when two light beams (one in the far-red region, and the other of shorter wavelengths) are given together than when given separately; and the 1960 scheme of Robin Hill & Fay Bendall; and

Keywords: Bessel Kok; Eugene Rabinowitch; Horst T. Witt; James Franck; Louis N. M. Duysens; Robert Emerson; Robin Hill; The Z-scheme of photosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Electron Transport / radiation effects
  • Light
  • Models, Biological
  • Photosynthesis* / radiation effects
  • Pigments, Biological / metabolism


  • Pigments, Biological