Journal Article

Quantum yield variation across the three pathways of photosynthesis: not yet out of the dark

John B. Skillman

in Journal of Experimental Botany

Published on behalf of Society for Experimental Biology

Volume 59, issue 7, pages 1647-1661
Published in print May 2008 | ISSN: 0022-0957
Published online March 2008 | e-ISSN: 1460-2431 | DOI:
Quantum yield variation across the three pathways of photosynthesis: not yet out of the dark

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


Show Summary Details


The convergent quantum yield hypothesis (CQY) assumes that thermodynamics and natural selection jointly limit variation in the maximum energetic efficiency of photosynthesis in low light under otherwise specified conditions (e.g. temperature and CO2 concentration). A literature survey of photosynthetic quantum yield (ϕ) studies in terrestrial plants from C3, C4, and CAM photosynthetic types was conducted to test the CQY hypothesis. Broad variation in ϕ values from C3 plants could partially be explained by accounting for whether the measuring conditions were permissive or restrictive for photorespiration. Assimilatory quotients (AQ), calculated from the CO2 ϕ:O2 ϕ ratios, indicated that 49% and 29% of absorbed light energy was allocated to carbon fixation and photorespiration in C3 plants, respectively. The unexplained remainder (22%) may represent diversion to various other energy-demanding processes (e.g. starch synthesis, nitrogen assimilation). Individual and cumulative effects of these other processes on photosynthetic efficiency are poorly quantified. In C4 plants, little variation in ϕ values was observed, consistent with the fact that C4 plants exhibit little photorespiration. As before, AQ values indicate that 22% of absorbed light energy cannot be accounted for by carbon fixation in C4 plants. Among all three photosynthetic types, the ϕ of photosynthesis in CAM plants is the least studied, appears to be highly variable, and may present the greatest challenge to the CQY hypothesis. The high amount of energy diverted to processes other than carbon fixation in C3 and C4 plants and the poor characterization of photosynthetic efficiency in CAM plants are significant deficiencies in our otherwise robust understanding of the energetics of terrestrial photoautotrophy.

Keywords: C3 photosynthesis; C4 photosynthesis; Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM); photosynthetic quantum yield

Journal Article.  10051 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.