Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 112, Issue 2, pp 129–140 | Cite as

The reaction center is the sensitive target of the mercury(II) ion in intact cells of photosynthetic bacteria

  • Emese Asztalos
  • Gábor Sipka
  • Mariann Kis
  • Massimo Trotta
  • Péter Maróti
Regular Paper


The sensitivity of intact cells of purple photosynthetic bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides wild type to low level (<100 μM) of mercury (Hg2+) contamination was evaluated by absorption and fluorescence spectroscopies of the bacteriochlorophyll–protein complexes. All assays related to the function of the reaction center (RC) protein (induction of the bacteriochlorophyll fluorescence, delayed fluorescence and light-induced oxidation and reduction of the bacteriochlorophyll dimer and energization of the photosynthetic membrane) showed prompt and later effects of the mercury ions. The damage expressed by decrease of the magnitude and changes of rates of the electron transfer kinetics followed complex (spatial and temporal) pattern according to the different Hg2+ sensitivities of the electron transport (donor/acceptor) sites including the reduced bound and free cytochrome c 2 and the primary reduced quinone. In contrast to the RC, the light harvesting system and the bc1 complex demonstrated much higher resistance against the mercury pollution. The 850 and 875 nm components of the peripheral and core complexes were particularly insensitive to the mercury(II) ions. The concentration of the photoactive RCs and the connectivity of the photosynthetic units decreased upon mercury treatment. The degree of inhibition of the photosynthetic apparatus was always higher when the cells were kept in the light than in the dark indicating the importance of metabolism in active transport of the mercury ions from outside to the intracytoplasmic membrane. Any of the tests applied in this study can be used for detection of changes in photosynthetic bacteria at the early stages of the action of toxicants.


Bacterial photosynthesis Intact cells Reaction center Antenna Mercury contamination Bacteriochlorophyll spectroscopy 


cyt c22+

Reduced cytochrome c 2


Delayed light


Bacteriochlorophyll dimer


Primary acceptor (ubiquinone)




Reaction center



We are indebted to Ms Diana Nyúli for absorption measurements in the early phase of this project and to the support of NKTH-OTKA (K-67850), TÁMOP 4.2.2/B, COST Action on “Molecular machineries for ion translocation across biomembranes” (CM0902) and MTA-CNR Bilateral agreement on “Bacterial photosynthesis: artificial photosystems and bioremediation”.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emese Asztalos
    • 1
  • Gábor Sipka
    • 1
  • Mariann Kis
    • 1
  • Massimo Trotta
    • 2
  • Péter Maróti
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medical PhysicsUniversity of SzegedSzegedHungary
  2. 2.Instituto per i Processi Chimico FisiciConsiglio Nazionale delle RichercheBariItaly

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