The origin of oxygenic photosynthesis was the most important metabolic innovation in Earth history. It allowed life to generate energy and reducing power directly from sunlight and water, freeing it from the limited resources of geochemically derived reductants. This greatly increased global primary productivity and restructured ecosystems. The release of O as an end product of water oxidation led to the rise of oxygen, which dramatically altered the redox state of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and permanently changed all major biogeochemical cycles. Furthermore, the biological availability of O allowed for the evolution of aerobic respiration and novel biosynthetic pathways, facilitating much of the richness we associate with modern biology, including complex multicellularity. Here we critically review and synthesize information from the geological and biological records for the origin and evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis. Data from both of these archives illustrate that this metabolism first appeared in early Paleoproterozoic time and, despite its biogeochemical prominence, is a relatively late invention in the context of our planet's history.


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