The photosynthetic apparatus in plants is protected against oxidative damage by processes that dissipate excess absorbed light energy as heat within the light-harvesting complexes. This dissipation of excitation energy is measured as nonphotochemical quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence. Nonphotochemical quenching depends primarily on the ApH that is generated by photosynthetic electron transport, and it is also correlated with the amounts of zeaxanthin and antheraxanthin that are formed from violaxanthin by the operation of the xanthophyll cycle. To perform a genetic dissection of nonphotochemical quenching, we have isolated npq mutants of Chlamydomonas by using a digital videoimaging system. In excessive light, the npql mutant is unable to convert violaxanthin to antheraxanthin and zeaxanthin; this reaction is catalyzed by violaxanthin de-epoxidase. The npq2 mutant appears to be defective in zeaxanthin epoxidase activity, because it accumulates zeaxanthin and completely lacks antheraxanthin and violaxanthin under all light conditions. Characterization of these mutants demonstrates that a component of nonphotochemical quenching that develops in vivo in Chlamydomonas depends on the accumulation of zeaxanthin and antheraxanthin via the xanthophyll cycle. However, observation of substantial, rapid, ApH-dependent nonphotochemical quenching in the npql mutant demonstrates that the formation of zeaxanthin and antheraxanthin via violaxanthin de-epoxidase activity is not required for all ApH-dependent nonphotochemical quenching in this alga. Furthermore, the xanthophyll cycle is not required for survival of Chlamydomonas in excessive light
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