Advancing photosystem II photoelectrochemistry for semi-artificial photosynthesis


Oxygenic photosynthesis is the primary solar energy-conversion process that supports much of life on Earth. It is initiated by photosystem II (PSII), an enzyme that extracts electrons from H2O and feeds them into an electron-transport chain to result in chemical synthesis using the input of solar energy. PSII can be immobilized onto electrodes for photoelectrochemical studies, in which electrons photogenerated from PSII are harnessed for enzyme characterization, and to drive fuel-forming reactions by electrochemically coupling the PSII to a suitable (bio)catalyst. Research in PSII photoelectrochemistry has recently made substantial strides in electrode design and unravelling charge-transfer pathways at the bio–material interface. In turn, these efforts have opened up possibilities in the field of bio-photoelectrochemistry, expanding the range of biocatalysts that can be systematically interrogated, including biofilms of whole photosynthetic cells. Furthermore, these studies have accelerated the development of semi-artificial photosynthesis to afford autonomous, solar-driven, fuel-forming biohybrid devices. This Review summarizes the latest advancements in PSII photoelectrochemistry with respect to electrode design and understanding of the bio-material interface, on both the protein and cellular level. We also discuss the role of biological photosynthetic systems in present and future semi-artificial photosynthesis.

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Fig. 1: The structure of PSII and its role in natural and semi-artificial photosynthesis.
Fig. 2: Photoelectrochemistry of PSII films.
Fig. 3: Charge-transfer and energy-transfer pathways at the PSII–electrode interface.
Fig. 4: Photoelectrochemistry of PSII films on a RRDE.
Fig. 5: Photocurrent output of electrodes used in PSII photoelectrochemistry since the mid-2000s.
Fig. 6: Semi-artificial photosynthetic schemes.
Fig. 7: Photoelectrochemistry of photosynthetic cells containing PSII.

Change history

  • 13 May 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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This work was supported by an ERC Consolidator Grant ‘MatEnSAP’ (682833) and a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (BB/R011923/1). The authors thank S. Kalathil, X. Fang and L. Wey for the valuable discussions.

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Both authors conceived the review, J.Z.Z. wrote the manuscript and constructed the figures, E.R. reviewed and edited the manuscript, contributed references and to discussions.

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Correspondence to Jenny Z. Zhang or Erwin Reisner.

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Nature Reviews Chemistry thanks V. Fourmond, R. Frese, F. Conzuelo and the other, anonymous, reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Zhang, J.Z., Reisner, E. Advancing photosystem II photoelectrochemistry for semi-artificial photosynthesis. Nat Rev Chem 4, 6–21 (2020).

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