Excitation energy transfer in the light-harvesting antenna of Rhodospirillum rubrum was studied at room temperature using sub-picosecond transient absorption measurements. Upon excitation of Rs. rubrum membranes with a 200 fs, 600 nm laser flash in the Qx transition of the bacteriochlorophyll-a (BChl-a) absorption, the induced transient absorption changes in the Qy region were monitored. In Rs. rubrum membranes the observed delta OD spectrum exhibits ground state bleaching, excited state absorption and stimulated emission. Fast Qx --> Qy relaxation occurs in approximately 100–200 fs as reflected by the building up of stimulated emission. An important observation is that the zero-crossing of the transient difference absorption (delta OD) spectrum exhibits a dynamic redshift from 863 to 875 nm that can be described with by a single exponential with 325 fs time constant. The shape of the transient difference spectrum observed in a purified subunit of the core light-harvesting antenna, B820, consisting of only a single interacting pair of BChl-as, is similar to the spectrum observed in Rs. rubrum membranes and clearly different from the spectrum of BChl-a in a protein/detergent mixture. In the B820 and monomeric BChl-a preparations the 100–200 fs Qx --> Qy relaxation is still observed, but the dynamic redshift of the delta OD spectrum is absent. The spectral kinetics observed in the Rs. rubrum membranes are interpreted in terms of the dynamics of excitation equilibration among the antenna subunits that constitute the inhomogeneously broadened antenna. A simulation of this process using a set of reasonable physical parameters is consistent with an average hopping time in the core light harvesting of 220–270 fs, resulting in an average single-site excitation lifetime of 50–70 fs. The observed rate of this equilibration process is in reasonable agreement with earlier estimations for the hopping time from more indirect measurements. The implications of the findings for the process of excitation trapping by reaction centers will be discussed.
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