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Identification of a gene needed to expand light harvesting in photosynthesis into the far-red-light spectrum provides clues to the development of oxygen-producing photosynthesis, an evolutionary advance that changed the history of life on Earth. "Knowledge of how photosynthesis evolved could empower scientists to design better ways to use light energy for the benefit of humankind," said Donald A. Bryant, the Ernest C. Pollard Professor of Biotechnology and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University and the leader of the research team that made the discovery.

This discovery, which could enable scientists to engineer crop plants that more efficiently harness the energy of the Sun, will be published online by the journal Science.

"Photosynthesis usually ranks about third after the origin of life and the invention of DNA in lists of the greatest inventions of evolution," said Bryant. "Photosynthesis was such a powerful invention that it changed Earth's atmosphere by producing oxygen, allowing diverse and complex life forms -- algae, plants, and animals -- to evolve."

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