If we were to place bacteriorhodopsin and ATP synthase in an acidified solution (for H+ ions) filled with phospholipids, ADP and inorganic phosphate, hopefully the bacteriorhodopsin and ATP synthase will be embedded in the same micelle. Then when exposed to sunlight, the bacteriorhodopsin will start to operate, creating an electrochemical gradient which will power the ATP synthase, synthesising ATP.

Can we create achieve complete photosynthesis on a petri dish? What are the technological barriers against such an invention? Even if such a small working model were to exist, why can't it be scaled up?

What if we could add in the Kelvin cycle and other photosystems to create a fully functional 'chloroplast'? It seems biotech researchers have been trying this since the 1960s, however, why have scientists not been able to create a fully functioning photosynthetic organ *now*? (see edits)

Several motivations for this:

  • Does away the need of sugar cane farms and provide us with the most efficient means of harvesting sugar, literally we do not have to produce a lot of waste when processing tons of sugar cane just to obtain a little sugar, while the rest (cellulose) mostly goes to waste.
  • Production of biofuels since the sugars produced is the precursor of lipids, in response to climate risks

Remark: I am not looking for a synthetic system that operates by inorganic means but a system that consists of enzymes and membranous structures, very much like that in plants.

Edit: As per the comments listed below, here are some fixes, specifically the illuminating comment by @David. I must apologise for the inaccuracies of the original question.


Biochemists did not strive to recreate the whole system from scratch (by making a handful, if not hundreds of protein embed on a phospholipid membrane as implied by my original question), but tried to achieve complete photosynthesis of isolated chloroplasts, which is similar enough to the question proposed if not identical.


According to the paper above, there are some techniques that use chloroplasts extracts, which contain many key components of the photosynthetic cycle, and also a better chloroplast isolation method which tries to preserves the enzymes needed. It alleges that carbon assimilation occurs, even though the end product is 3-phosphoglycerate after carboxylation.

I will further update this question after I read more, but as of the time being, these immediate fixes are done to fix some damning issues as raised.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you are confused about how much is involved in photosynthesis. It is an organized process, this is like asking why piling all the parts for a car in a crate does not create a working car. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 18 '20 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ @John I understand how complex it is: lot's of enzymes, the electron transport chain and more, all on a phospholipid membrane and cytoplast. However, cells do assemble these as functional units. I am not a researcher, but I'm just being optimistic. $\endgroup$ – Cheng Oct 18 '20 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ Yes cells have to ASSEMBLE these units, which is the part that is beyond us on any usable scale. this is why we use whole organisms they assemble themselves. building even a single electron transport chain from scratch would be a many step process for a researcher taking days or weeks of time, there is no good reason to do it. Think about how rough our tools are at this scale. this is like trying to assemble a car while wearing oven mitts and only having a sledgehammer as a tool. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 18 '20 at 14:26
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