Tracing the Evolutionary History of the Cryptophyte Light Harvesting Antenna: A Structural Perspective

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Copyright: Rathbone, Harry
Abstract
Photosynthesis has played a key role in the evolutionary trajectory of life on Earth. The ways in which organisms harvest sunlight have diversified over the billions of years since photosynthesis emerged in the quest for more efficient use of this energy source. The evolutionary origins of some organisms’ light harvesting apparatus, however, have remained elusive as have the causes for stark architectural changes between evolutionarily related organisms. In this thesis, I firstly provide a detailed exploration of published data describing photosynthetic efficiency through the lens of structural biology and quantum mechanics, examining observations from a range of antenna systems. After having built a framework for how an efficient photosynthetic antenna may be constructed, the rest of this thesis explores the evolutionary trajectory of the light harvesting antenna of the cryptophyte algae. Cryptophytes are a clade of secondary endosymbiotic algae which gained their photosynthetic chloroplasts from an engulfed red alga, but produced in an architecturally distinct antenna. Red algae have an antenna comprised of stacked protein rings that form an energetic funnel to the photosynthetic reaction centre which generates chemical energy from photon excitations. Cryptophytes took this energy funnel and dismantled it; complexing one of its component proteins with a peptide of unknown origin (‘cryptophyte alpha’) and packing them at high density within the chloroplast. By examining recently published cryo-electron microscopy maps of red algal antennas, I have discovered the evolutionary ancestor of the unique cryptophyte alpha subunit. Through this discovery, I reveal possible evolutionary events following secondary endosymbiosis leading to the origin of the cryptophyte light harvesting system. Finally, I examine the light harvesting antenna of a particular cryptophyte species, Hemiselmis andersenii, isolating multiple protein components and determining their crystal structures at high resolution. Through this, I discover a more complex antenna than previously thought with multiple protein components and a rich energetic structure. Some of these antenna proteins show previously unrecognised spectral properties and chromophore architecture. This structural data aids in understanding the architectural change between the red algal and cryptophyte light harvesting antennas and further diversification within the cryptophyte clade.
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Publication Year
2021
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Thesis
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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