October 14, 2011
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David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter
Plants mastered chemistry a long time before humans, billions of years actually. In fact, we humans and most of the rest of the life on Earth can thank tiny cyanobacteria for mastering/evolving the molecule known as chlorophyll. Chlorophyll—a pigment that absorbs blue light—is the key to photosynthesis, and photosynthesis is the key to turning sunlight into food.
Of course, photosynthesis relies on more than just chlorophyll. There’s RuBisCo, the enzyme that lets plants turn CO2 into carbohydrates, and Photosystem I and II, which employ chlorophyll to channel the sun’s energy into making sugar. Human chemistry is presently attempting to figure out a way to make these basic plant systems better. But until we do, there’s no better chemist than pond scum.
About the Author:
David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @dbiello