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Learning how nature splits water

tion information about the distances and orientation of the catalyst.

"We have a real structure now," adds Vittal Yachandra, also with Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division and a co-author of the paper. "It's not just guesswork anymore. Before, there were a lot of disparate pieces and scientists were forced to speculate on the catalyst's structure. Now, we can begin to infer how the energy of sunlight is used to oxidize water to molecular oxygen."

Scientists already know that the catalyst goes through four steps as it oxidizes water to oxygen, with each step triggered by the absorption of a photon. Now, they can learn how individual bonds are broken and formed, and how the water molecule splits apart, step by step. The group's high-resolution structure is already yielding clues.

"We found that our structure is unlike the 3.0-ngstrom-resolution x-ray structure and other previously proposed models," says Yano. "The higher-resolution structures are likely to be important in gaining a mechanistic understanding of water oxidation."

Ultimately, this research will inform the search for renewable energy sources. Many of the strategies scientists propose depend on a way to wrest hydrogen, which is an energy carrier, from water. Unfortunately, the current methods used to extract hydrogen from water require either electricity or methane, both of which come at a price.

"That's why the water-splitting complex in photosynthesis is the basis for a lot of work being done in energy research today," says Yachandra. "This is the main underpinning for our work. We are trying to understand how nature works so we can apply the same principles to clean energy research."


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Contact: Dan Krotz
dakrotz@lbl.gov
510-486-4019
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
3-Nov-2006


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