Enzymatic photocatalysis is seldom used in biology. Photocatalysis by light-dependent protochlorophyllide oxidoreductase (LPOR)—one of only a few natural light-dependent enzymes—is an exception, and is responsible for the conversion of protochlorophyllide to chlorophyllide in chlorophyll biosynthesis. Photocatalysis by LPOR not only regulates the biosynthesis of the most abundant pigment on Earth but it is also a ‘master switch’ in photomorphogenesis in early plant development. Following illumination, LPOR promotes chlorophyll production, plastid membranes are transformed and the photosynthetic apparatus is established. Given these remarkable, light-induced pigment and morphological changes, the LPOR-catalysed reaction has been extensively studied from catalytic, physiological and plant development perspectives, highlighting vital, and multiple, cellular roles of this intriguing enzyme. Here, we offer a perspective in which the link between LPOR photocatalysis and plant photomorphogenesis is explored. Notable breakthroughs in LPOR structural biology have uncovered the structural–mechanistic basis of photocatalysis. These studies have clarified how photon absorption by the pigment protochlorophyllide—bound in a ternary LPOR–protochlorophyllide–NADPH complex—triggers photocatalysis and a cascade of complex molecular and cellular events that lead to plant morphological changes. Photocatalysis is therefore the master switch responsible for early-stage plant development and ultimately life on Earth.
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Heyes, D.J., Zhang, S., Taylor, A. et al. Photocatalysis as the ‘master switch’ of photomorphogenesis in early plant development. Nat. Plants 7, 268–276 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-021-00866-5