Chlorophyll: The Green Miracle
Consider an area of 1 square millimeter—about the size of the tip of a lead pencil. Now, into that space, squeeze 500,000 special devices, each containing a very special design and function. Also, let's protect each one with a very special packaging system.
This might seem quite impossible for you, but Allah's creation is flawless and magnificent. The feat described above is regularly performed in real life. There are 500,000 chloroplasts in 1 square millimeter of a plant's leaf.78 Chloroplast molecules, squeezed into that very small area and have an exceedingly complex design, perform a function vital for human life—as briefly mentioned in an earlier section.
Imagine that you must design a special piece of apparatus whose job will be to break down water molecules—which as you know, consist of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. The device you design must separate the oxygen from the hydrogen.
The separation of oxygen and hydrogen atoms requires either a large explosion, or for the water molecules to be heated by thousands of degrees. Bear in mind that water boils at only 100 degrees Celsius, so the level of energy needed is apparent. Yet the only source of heat energy you are allowed to use is the Sun. And the device you are to design has another difficult task to perform; to combine the free CO2 in the air with the H2 molecules it obtains.
If you manage to design such a device, your name will go down in history, because despite all the extraordinary progress made in technology, science has still been unable to invent a device of the sort described above. Indeed, biologists are still trying to understand just how plants do this. The chlorophyll molecule is the only device on Earth capable of performing this process. When chlorophyll's design is examined, you can better appreciate how Allah has created all things with delicate calculation and infinite intelligence.
The chlorophyll molecule consists of 55 atoms of carbon, 72 of hydrogen, 5 of oxygen, 4 of nitrogen and 1 of magnesium, combined in a particular order and with a very special design.79 Every atom must be correctly placed for the molecule to do its job.
These atoms constituting chlorophyll know just what duties they have to do, and fulfill them and in an unbelievably short space of time beyond all human comprehension—one 10-millionth of a second.80 The difference between 1/1000th of a second and 2/1000ths of a second is too short for us to grasp. One 10 millionth of a second is therefore totally unimaginable.
The Extraordinary Events That Take Place in Chlorophyll
Photons striking the water in leaves is loaded into the chlorophyll device. The impact of light activates the atomic sub-particles in the chlorophyll and changes their orbits. This process, takes place in as little as one 10 millionth of a second, and the hydrogen is separated from the oxygen in the water molecule. This process occurs so quickly that scientists still do not know just how the oxygen and hydrogen atoms separate.
The free hydrogen that has separated off is trapped by larger, spiral-shaped protein molecules known as enzymes or catalysts, whose shapes are specially designed to trap hydrogen. They chemically combine this hydrogen with the CO2 absorbed in such a way that the two molecules intermingle by rotating at enormous speeds. This is another stage that scientist do not yet understand, since they lack the means to isolate and examine the system. They merely interpret what probably happens by analyzing the results that emerge.81
A single chlorophyll molecule contains a flawless system that 21st-century technology, with all the means at its disposal, cannot comprehend. Extraordinary phenomena take place within every single part of this system. For example, the enzymes seem to expect the hydrogen in water to be released with the light that arrives. When the hydrogen atoms separate, they immediately recognize and catch them, not letting them recombine with the oxygen that's been released. They then know they must transport the hydrogen and combine it with CO2. Thanks to this highly conscious behavior, here summarized in the very briefest terms, life on Earth is able to survive.
In addition, all this happens in just one 10-millionth of a second. Despite all our technology, we cannot do under laboratory conditions what the enzymes and atoms in the chlorophyll molecule do. No doubt that the design and tasks accomplished by chlorophyll are proofs of the matchless and incomparable creation of Allah.
The Initial Stages
When we examine the processes by which photosynthesis takes place, the might of Allah and the glory in His creation can be seen more clearly.
The time required for this is quite unbelievable: just "1 billionth of a second!"82
During this space of time, energy transfers and the distribution of the energy stored in the reaction center must take place. These rapid energy transfers, a complex process, have to be achieved in an even shorter period of time, one which we cannot even imagine: one 300 billionth of a second.
This is one second divided by 300 billion—way beyond all human comprehension.
Danger under Control
The processes taking place during photosynthesis could give rise to very dangerous consequences if the necessary precautions were not taken. During these processes, a water molecule is split, following which one of its components is combined with another molecule. A very dangerous method is employed in doing this, using the movements of sub-atomic particles.
The movements of atomic sub-particles could give rise to unbelievable dangers. Unless all the processes are brought under complete control, the consequences could even lead to the total breakdown of the plant's cell. However, security measures have been created for every phase of the photosynthesis process.
This situation can be compared to the design of nuclear reactors in atomic power stations. The energy obtained from the splitting of atoms is used to produce electrical energy. In addition to energy, very dangerous radioactive isotopes are produced. The reactor is designed to convert the heat energy from the splitting of atoms into a useable state, but also to neutralize the harmful particles. Special systems that absorb these particles are installed in the reactor.
Of course the working systems and production in photosynthesis differ, but they share one point in common with those in nuclear reactors: The photosynthesis mechanisms also possess security systems to eliminate any harmful elements that might emerge during the process. But the plant's mechanisms possess a far more advanced technology and a design far superior to those in nuclear reactors. Moreover, reactors cover hundreds of square meters, while photosynthesis takes place in a cell too tiny to be seen with the naked eye. All dangers that might arise during photosynthesis have been foreseen. For example, the distance between the sub-systems that carry out electron transfer have been arranged according to a very careful plan. The distance in question is so minute as to be invisible even under the most advanced microscopes.
During photosynthesis, protein-pigment compounds literally work like robots. Which of these will be involved in which stage and which threat it will eliminate has also been set out carefully beforehand.
The examination of a few technical details will better reveal the perfection of the design involved:
When light is intense, the chlorophyll assumes a chemical state known as triplet, which could cause the plant severe damage, because the orbits of two electrons in the outer ring of chlorophyll are in the same direction in this state, rather than working in opposite directions.
This triplet chlorophyll might lead to the formation of a single free oxygen atom, and by immediately entering into a reaction with oxygen, could damage the proteins. What prevents any such damage is the carotene pigments installed immediately next to the chlorophyll. Carotene prevents the formation of single oxygen atom combining to calm the triplet status of the chlorophyll. In other words, by sharing the excess energy loaded in the chlorophyll, it prevents the chlorophyll assuming a harmful state.83
Leaving aside the hundreds of planned stages and systems built into photosynthesis and reflecting on just this last technical detail clearly shows the flawlessness in Allah's creation. The moment the chlorophyll molecule reaches a dangerous state, the carotene molecule eliminates the excess energy in the chlorophyll and prevents it from doing any harm in exactly the right place, at exactly the right moment. In addition, the carotene has exactly the right design for that purpose. This shows that this system was created by a superior mind—in other words by Allah. No coincidence can produce such a detailed, complex and flawless system, together with all its security measures. No right-thinking person can possibly imagine that blind chance brought such a system into being.
The Mysterious World of Photosynthesis
Energy-production systems trying to imitate photosynthesis have faced enormous difficulties. The most important of these has been the need to use new energy to initiate a reaction each time, rather than being able to set up a constantly self-sustaining process. Since no system to transfer the absorbed energy according to requirements or to convert it into another form of energy that can be stored has yet been built, a large part of sunlight is wasted by being scattered or reflected away. All mechanisms trying to make use of solar energy face this problem. Yet green leaves never encounter such a difficulty, thanks to the superior system they have possessed ever since they were first created.
The Stages of Photosynthesis
Scientists describe the photosynthesis that takes place inside chloroplasts as a long chemical chain reaction. But as was made clear in the preceding pages, since this reaction takes place unbelievably quickly, some stages have proven impossible to study. What is known is that photosynthesis takes place in two phases, known as the light phase and the dark phase.
In the light phase, which takes place only in the presence of light, pigments absorb sunlight and use the hydrogen in water to convert it into chemical energy. The left over oxygen is returned to the atmosphere. In the dark phase, which does not require light, the chemical energy obtained is used for the production of other organic substances such as sucrose.
The Light Phase
In the first stage of photosynthesis, NADPH and ATP products to be used as fuel are obtained.
The antenna groups that serve during the first stage of photosynthesis and are responsible for trapping the light are of the greatest importance. As you have seen, these chloroplasts consist of pigments such as chlorophyll, protein and fat and contain what are called photosystems. Photosystem II is stimulated at light wavelengths of 680 nanometers and less, and Photosystem I is stimulated at 700 nanometers and above. The chlorophyll molecules that trap specific wavelengths in the photosystems are known as P680 and P700.
The reactions initiated under the effect of light take place inside these photosystems. Although each photosystem performs a different process with the light energy that it traps, the two systems constitute a single chain reaction and are mutually complementary. The energy caught by Photosystem II enables hydrogen and oxygen to be released by breaking down the water molecule. Photosystem I permits NADP to be reduced with hydrogen.
In this three-stage process, the electrons in water are first carried to Photosystem II, then from Photosystem II to Photosystem I, and finally to the NADP. The first stage is exceedingly important, which takes place when a single photon strikes the plant's leaf.
The moment a photon strikes the plant, it initiates a chemical reaction, reaching that chlorophyll pigment in the Photosystem II reaction center and stimulating one of that molecule's electrons, raising it to a higher energy level. Electrons are exceedingly small particles that revolve in specific orbits around the atomic nucleus and bear a very low negative electrical charge. The light energy pushes the electrons in chlorophyll and other light-trapping pigments out of their orbits—an initial reaction that sets up the remaining stages of photosynthesis. At this point the electrons release an energy in as little as 1 millionth of a second. This energy flows from one pigment molecule to another, which are arranged in a sequence. (See diagram on Page 178.)
At this stage, the chlorophyll that has lost one electron assumes a positive electrical charge, and the receptor molecule that accepts the electron bears a negative charge. The electrons pass into what's known as the electron transfer chain, made up of carrier molecules, moving down from
To better understand this phenomenon, compare it to a hydroelectric station. The falling water in this station powers an electricity generator. The greater the height from which the water falls, the more energy will be obtained. However, two pumps are used to keep the water flowing from a high level, worked by panels that collect solar energy, which are located in two strategic positions to set the entire system in motion. Of course this is a much simplified analogy. Even if we managed to construct this system, we would still encounter a major problem in converting the energy from the solar panels into electrical energy to run the pumps. Yet in performing photosynthesis, plants do so with an expert design and in a perfect manner.
In order for this photosynthesis system to function, the water must be broken down in the internal area of the thylakoids, which are sacs in which photosynthesis take place. Thus the electrons will pass along the membrane to the stroma where it will be reduced to NADP+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, a molecule with a high-energy charge receiving an electron for Photosystem I during photosynthesis). However, since water is not easily broken down, there is a need for precise organization and co-operation in this region. Energy needed for this process is obtained from the solar energy that enters the equation at two points. At this point, the water electrons are exposed to a "propulsive" force from both photosystems. In the wake of each propulsion movement they pass through the electron transfer system and lose part of their energy. This lost energy is used to power photosynthesis.
The Formation of Photosystem I and NADPH
A photon striking Photosystem I raises a P700 chlorophyll electron to a higher energy level. This electron is received by the NADPH line of the electron-transfer system. Part of this energy is used to reduce the NADP+ in the stroma to NADPH. In this process, NADP+ receives two electrons and receives one hydrogen atom from the stroma. (See the diagrams on pages 178 and 179.)
Photosystem II – Photosystem I
The electron leaving its orbit and reaching the electron receptor and many other subsequent processes provide the energy necessary for photosynthesis. Yet it is not enough for this process to occur only once. For photosynthesis to continue, it must be repeated again and again. But this suggests a major problem. When the first electron leaves its orbit, its place remains empty. A new electron must be installed there, a subsequent photon has to strike that electron, and the electron hurled out has to be caught by the electron receptor. There is a need for an electron to respond to the incoming photons on every single occasion.
At this stage, a new electron to replace the one lost by the P700 is installed: The hydrogen ion (H+) in the stroma is carried inside the thylakoid. In Photosystem II, a photon raises energy level by striking a P680 electron. This electron passes into the other electron transfer system, replacing the lost electron by moving to the P700 in Photosystem I. As the electron moves along this chain, the energy it receives from the photon is used for carrying the hydrogen ion from the stroma to the thylakoid.
This hydrogen will later be used in the production of ATP, which all living things use as a fuel to survive. It's obtained with the addition of a phosphorus atom to ADP (adenosine diphosphate, a chemical found in all living things). In conclusion, the carrier molecules take the molecules of the Photosystem II to Photosystem I, and thus meet the P700's electron requirement. The system continues functioning in this impeccable manner.
Of course, the fact that an electron storage system has been designed to meet the electron expenditure, and has been installed in the appropriate location, is another proof that all the details of this system have been created.
Water – Photosystem II
This complex picture does not end here. The P680 that gave its electrons to P700 is now without an electron. However, another system has been established to meet this deficiency. The P680 electrons are obtained by the water carried up from the roots to the leaves being broken down into hydrogen and oxygen ions and free electrons. The electrons from the H2O supply the missing P680 electrons by flowing to Photosystem II. Some of the hydrogen ions are used to produce NADPH at the end of the electron transport chain, and the freed O2 molecules are released back into the atmosphere.
This chain of events, which is expressed in even its simplest terms, is very difficult to understand but which ensures the progressive release of energy is a sign of a superior design and infinite intelligence. Thanks to this complex and superior design, the chloroplasts and cell membranes are protected against any harmful rise in temperature. And in addition sufficient time is gained for the plant to manufacture such basic products as NADPH and ATP.
Another miracle that emerges in the design of photosynthesis is especially striking. As mentioned, the Photosystem I and II antenna are divided into two: P700 and P680. The 20-nanometer difference in the light wavelengths caught by the two receptors plays a key role in the functioning of the entire system. In fact, these two receptors possess the same structure and form. Yet the existence of separate molecules, known as Kla that serve as traps for light reveals the difference between them. A Creator possessed of infinite knowledge designed the special systems to obtain a distance of 20 nanometers (1 nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter—so small that it's hard even to imagine,) in a system built on such minute numbers and proportions.
The first stage in photosynthesis is actually a preparatory phase, despite such superior systems being in operation. The substances used as fuel and produced in this stage will be employed in the dark phase when the fundamental processes are carried out—and this system, a marvel of design, will thus be completed.
The Dark Phase
The energy-charged NADPH and ATP molecules that emerged during the light phase, in the dark phase convert the carbon dioxide into foodstuffs such as sugar and starch.
The dark phase is a circular reaction, which begins with a molecule that needs to be recreated at the end of the reaction in order for the process to continue. In the start of this reaction, also known as the Calvin phase, electrons and hydrogen ions joined to the NADPH, and phosphorus joined to the ATP, are used to produce glucose. These processes take place in the liquid regions of the chloroplast known as stroma, and each phase is controlled by a different enzyme. The dark-phase reaction needs the carbon dioxide, which enter the leaves through the pores and disperse in the stroma. When these carbon dioxide molecules bind to the sugar molecules known as 5-RuBP in the stroma, they form an unbalanced 6-carbon molecule, and thus the dark phase is initiated. (See diagram on Page 185: 1st phase.)
This 6-carbon molecule immediately divides, and two 3-phosphoglycerate (3PG) molecules emerge. Phosphate is added to both molecules by ATP; this process is referred to as phosphorylation. (See diagram on Page 185, 2nd phase.) As a result of phosphorylation, two bisphosphoglycerate (BPG) molecules form. These in turn are broken down by NADPH, giving rise to two glyceral-3-phosphate (G3P) molecules. (See diagram on Page 185, 3rd and 4th stages.) This final product is now at the junction point and part of it abandons the chloroplast in order to participate in glucose production by entering the cytoplasm. (See diagram on Page 185, 5th phase.) The other part continues with the Calvin phase, is again subjected to phosphorylation, and is thus transformed into the 5-RuBP molecule at the beginning of the phase. (See diagram on Page 185, 7th and 8th phases.) This phase has to be repeated six times for the production of the G3P molecule needed to form one glucose molecule.
As in all the other stages of photosynthesis, the enzymes undertake important tasks. To cite one example of their vital importance, the enzyme carboxydismutase (ribulose 1.5 diphosphate carboxylase)— which plays a particularly important role in this stage of photosynthesis—breaks down acids, despite its being only 0.00000001 mm (one hundred-millionth of a millimeter) in size, and catalyzes oxidation processes.
What purpose does this serve? If the carbohydrates (triose-hexose molecules) are not stored in a specific quantity and a specific form inside the cell, then internal cell pressure rises and finally leads to cellular breakdown. This storage, therefore, takes place in starch molecules that do not affect internal fluid pressure. This is one of the ordinary tasks undertaken by enzymes 24 hours a day.
As already stated, the remaining 5 RuBP molecule establishes a non-stop chain reaction by providing the material necessary to begin the process anew. So long as carbon dioxide, ATP and NADPH are present, this reaction in the chloroplasts is constantly renewed. The thousands of glucose molecules produced during this reaction are used by the plant for respiration and as a structural material, or are else stored away.84
Even the broad outlines of this chain reaction, briefly summarized here, took scientists hundreds of years to understand. Carbohydrates cannot be formed in any other way on Earth, which have been produced by plants thanks to this exceedingly complex system for millions of years. These substances thus produced are the main food source for all living things.
The plants, bacteria and single-celled organisms are entities with no brain, eyes or ears, and are unaware of what they do. Yet they have been carrying out photosynthesis for millions of years, even though it is still not fully understood by human beings. To maintain that these entities spontaneously acquired this photosynthetic system is as illogical as claiming that they decided to use the Sun, water and air to obtain energy and that they possessed the knowledge to implement that decision. Even if all the world's researchers and scientists joined forces and try to produce a substance that performs photosynthesis by using organic substances, alone they could never succeed, because before constructing such a system they would need to discover how it works. Yet present-day technology is unable to resolve anything more than the broad outlines of this exceedingly complex system.
Even if this secret is one day unraveled, producing a chlorophyll molecule similar to the 500,000 squeezed into a space the size of a pencil point will still lie far beyond the present level of human ability. Therefore, it is totally irrational to claim that the blind chance in unconscious plants performed something that human intelligence cannot.
Say: “Have you thought about your partner deities, those you call upon besides Allah? Show me what they have created of the Earth; or do they have a partnership in the heavens?” Have We given them a Book whose Clear Signs they follow? No indeed! The wrongdoers promise each other nothing but delusion.
78. "From Photons to Chlorophyll: Some Observations Regarding Color in the Plant World, C.J. Horn, Botany column-November, 1997.
79. Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries Of Life, p. 52.
82. "Photosynthesis Problem Set 1," www.biology.arizona.edu/biochemistry/problem_sets/photosynthesis_1/09t.html.
84. Kingsley R. Stern, Op. cit., pp. 169-170.