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Published June 2016 | metadata_only
Journal Article

Evolution of Oxygenic Photosynthesis


The origin of oxygenic photosynthesis was the most important metabolic innovation in Earth history. It allowed life to generate energy and reducing power directly from sunlight and water, freeing it from the limited resources of geochemically-derived reductants. This greatly increased global primary productivity and restructured ecosystems. The release of O2 as an end product of water oxidation led to the rise of oxygen, which dramatically altered the redox state of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and permanently changed all major biogeochemical cycles. Furthermore, the biological availability of O2 allowed for the evolution of aerobic respiration and novel biosynthetic pathways, facilitating much of the richness we associate with modern biology, including complex multicellularity. Here we critically review and synthesize information from the geological and biological records for the origin and evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis. Data from both of these archives illustrate that this metabolism first appeared in early Paleoproterozoic time and, despite its biogeochemical prominence, is a relatively late invention in the context of our planet's history.

Additional Information

© 2016 Annual Reviews. Review in Advance first posted online on May 11, 2016. W.W.F. acknowledges support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Agouron Institute, NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Caltech Center for Environmental Microbial Interactions. J.H. was supported by an Agouron Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship. J.E.J. was supported by a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. We express thanks for helpful feedback in preparing this paper from Lewis Ward, Grayson Chadwick, Elizabeth Trower, Patrick Shih, Sam Webb, Jon Wilson, Joe Kirschvink, Jim Morgan, Joan Valentine, Hope Johnson, and John Abelson.

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August 20, 2023
August 20, 2023