Photosynthesis research is best dated from the discovery in 1771 by Joseph Priestley that enclosure of a sprig of mint in a glass vessel for 10 days restored air "rendered noxious by breathing" to its former "salubrious condition".
His discovery of oxygen and its generation by plants from sunlight, air and water led to our present understanding of the ways in which the thin green veneer of the plant biosphere, on land and at sea, has transformed the atmosphere of Earth to one that sustains humankind and most other life processes.
Photosynthesis in plants produces the oxygen we breath, the bread and wine, the fuels and fibers that support our everyday lives.
Photosynthetic processes in natural ecosystems, agriculture and forestry are first responders to global climate change and continue to attract intensive, creative research from molecular to global scales.
Studies of photosynthetic processes have been an integral part of research recognised by several Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, most recently and specifically in 1961 (Calvin, for elucidating the dark reaction pathways of carbon dioxide fixation) and in 1988 (Deisenhofer, Huber, and Michel, for unraveling the structure of the photosynthetic bacterial reaction center). Photosynthesis research was further recognized by the Prize in Biology (1991) awarded by the Emperor of Japan to Hatch and Slack (for unraveling the C4 pathway of carbon metabolism in sugarcane and other plants).
As we begin to understand how the closed atmosphere of planet Earth has been destabilized by the burning of hundreds of millions of years accumulated fossil photosynthate (coal and oil) in just a few hundred years, our research in photosynthesis must now strive to develop renewable alternative energy resources, while ensuring food security in the face of global climate change. The need for broad multidisciplinary efforts to achieve "artificial photosynthesis" was recognised recently by the award in Helsinki of the Millennium Technology Prize to Michael Grätzel for his bio-inspired achievements in solar energy transduction.
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