A team of scientists from Australia and Germany has discovered what could be a new, previously unknown form of chlorophyll. As we all know chlorophyll is the green-pigmented substance that plants and certain forms of bacteria use to convert sunlight into energy. This new form appears to be a kind of “scavenger” that harvests part of the light spectrum that other forms of chlorophyll don’t absorb.
The discovery is significant because it could help push forward the development of new strains of algae that can use a larger part of the light spectrum to produce biofuel oils, which in turn would help to make renewable biofuel production cheaper and more competitive with fossil fuels.
Until now, only a few different forms of chlorophyll have been determined. Chlorophyll “a” is the most common form, and its structure was first detailed in 1940. From then until 1967, several more forms were chronicled (the last was later updated in 1990), so it’s been quite a long time since a new name was added to the list. As recently reported by Ferris Jabr in by Scientific American, the new entry is called chlorophyll “f.” Its discovery came from an analysis of stromatolites (underwater colonies that include cyanobacteria) and microbial “mats” recovered from Australia’s Shark Bay. Through a laborious process of elimination, the research team pinpointed cyanobacteria as the source of the new chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll and Clean Energy
As Jabr notes, there is still some homework to be done before a definitive connection can be made, but the future looks promising for applying the mechanisms of photosynthesis not only to improve the efficiency of biofuel production. The implications for renewable energy also go beyond biofuels. Scientists at Cornell University, for example, are building a framework for collecting solar energy based on phtalocyanines, which are pigments that share a similar structure to chlorophyll.
Image: Chlorophyll by Anderson Mancini on flickr.com.