On the basis of equilibrium isotopic distribution experiments using 18O-labeled water, it is generally accepted that water is the sole substrate for O2 production by photosystem II (PSII). Nevertheless, recent studies indicating a direct interaction between bicarbonate and the donor side of PSII have been used to hypothesize that bicarbonate may have been a physiologically important substrate for O2 production during the evolution of PSII [Dismukes, G. C., Klimov, V. V., Baranov, S. V., Kozlov, Y. N., DasGupta, J., and Tyryshikin, A. (2001) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 98, 2170-2175]. To test out this hypothesis and to determine whether contemporary oxygenic organisms have the capacity to oxidize bicarbonate, we employed special rapid-mixing isotopic experiments using 18O/13C-labeled bicarbonate to quantify the inherent carbonic anhydrase activity in PSII samples and the potential flux of oxygen from bicarbonate into the photosynthetically produced O2. The measurements were made on PSII samples prepared from spinach, Thermosynechococcus elongatus, and Arthrospira maxima. For the latter organism, a strain was used that grows naturally in an alkaline, high (bi)carbonate soda lake in Africa. The results reveal that bicarbonate is not the substrate for O2 production in these contemporary oxygenic photoautotrophs when assayed under single turnover conditions.
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