Thursday, December 28, 2006


The chloroplast is the site of photosynthesis in eukaryotic cells.

The thylakoid membrane, with its embedded photosystems, is the structural unit of photosynthesis. Both photosynthetic prokaryotes and eukaryotes possess membranes with embedded photosynthetic pigments. Only eukaryotes, which have a nuclear membrane and membrane-bound organelles, possess chloroplasts with an encapsulating membrane. The chloroplast has three compartments, while the mitochondrion has only two. Compartments within a chloroplast are the intermembranous space [3], the stroma [6], and the thylakoid lumen (8) within stromal and granal thylokoids [4,5].

1. outer membrane
2. inner membrane
3. intermembranous space
4. stromal thylakoid
5. granal thylakoid
6. stroma (cytosol)
7. granum (a stack of thylakoids)
8. internal lumen of granal and stromal thylakoids
(click to enlarge image)

The typical higher plant chloroplast is lenticular and approximately 5 microns at its largest dimension. Plant cells contain from 1 to 100 chloroplasts, depending on the type of cell. The mature chloroplast is typically bounded by outer (1) and inner (2) membranes that possess significantly different chemical constituents. In addition to enzymes that function in photosynthesis, chloroplasts also contain a circular DNA molecule and the protein-synthetic machinery characteristic of prokaryotes.

Each chloroplast contains about 40 to 80 grana (7), and each grana comprises about 5 to 30 thylakoids. The thylakoids are membranous disks about .25 to .8 microns in diameter, which contain protein complexes, pigments, and other accessory components. The phospholipid bilayer of the thylakoid is folded repeatedly into stacks of grana. (details) These stacks are connect by channels to form a single functional compartment.

The thylakoid is the site of oxygenic photosynthesis in eukaryotic plants and algae, and in prokaryotic Cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria possess thylakoid membranes, but as prokaryotes they do not contain chloroplasts. Chlorophyll, accessory pigments, and other integral membrane proteins transduce light energy to provide excited electrons (excitons) to electron transport chains, powering the formation of NADPH and ATP during photophosphorylation.As intracellular plant organelles, chloroplasts are classified as plastids.

Chloroplasts originate within the eukaryotic photosynthetic cell either by division of pre-existing plastids or from protoplastids (proplastid). These proplastids are organelles with little internal structure, enclosed within two dissimilar membranes. It is assumed that thylakoid membranes form during the chloroplast maturation process and are derived from the inner membrane of the proplastid and chloroplast.

The current consensus is that chloroplasts originated from Cyanobacteria that have become endosymbionts. This is an origin analogous to the endosymbiotic origin of mitochondria, which are believed derived from "purple bacteria", alpha-proteobacteria most closely related to Rickettsiales.


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