Quantum coherence and photosynethsis

An interesting paper:

Theoretical examination of quantum coherence in a photosynthetic system at physiological temperature

A Ishizaki and G R Fleming

The observation of long-lived electronic coherence in a photosynthetic pigment–protein complex, the Fenna–Matthews–Olson (FMO) complex, is suggestive that quantum coherence might play a significant role in achieving the remarkable efficiency of photosynthetic electronic energy transfer (EET), although the data were acquired at cryogenic temperature [Engel GS, et al. (2007) Evidence for wavelike energy transfer through quantum coherence in photosynthetic systems. Nature 446:782–786]. In this paper, the spatial and temporal dynamics of EET through the FMO complex at physiological temperature are investigated theoretically. The numerical results reveal that quantum wave-like motion persists for several hundred femtoseconds even at physiological temperature, and suggest that the FMO complex may work as a rectifier for unidirectional energy flow from the peripheral light-harvesting antenna to the reaction center complex by taking advantage of quantum coherence and the energy landscape of pigments tuned by the protein scaffold. A potential role of quantum coherence is to overcome local energetic traps and aid efficient trapping of electronic energy by the pigments facing the reaction center complex.

Here is a commentary on the paper:

Some quantum weirdness in physiology

P G Wolynes

Quantum mechanics seems alien to physiology. Alarm bells go off in our heads when we hear even people of such genius as Sir Roger Penrose (1) invoke the weird coherence of quantum mechanical wave functions to explain biological function. Of course, it is only some of the “weirder” parts of quantum mechanics that bother us. Structural biochemistry is founded on the rigid geometrical relationships involved in chemical bonding that arise from quantum mechanics; the α-helix could only have been discovered by Pauling by acknowledging the power of quantum mechanical resonance to flatten the peptide bonding unit (2). Nevertheless, most modern biomolecular scientists view quantum mechanics much as deists view their God; it merely sets the stage for action and then classically understandable, largely deterministic, pictures take over. In this issue of PNAS Ishizaki and Fleming (3), by combining experimental and theoretical investigations, demonstrate that quantum coherence effects play a big role in light energy transport in photosynthetic green sulfur bacteria under physiological conditions. Quantum coherence allows a nonclassical simultaneous exploration of many paths of energy flow through the many chromophores of a light-harvesting complex, thereby significantly increasing the efficiency of the energy capture process, presumably helping the bacteria to survive in low light.

2 Responses to “Quantum coherence and photosynethsis”

  1. raj Says:

    Guru, both the extracts could well have been written in Chinese or Swahili. I didn’t understand a single line, despite my Chemical Engineering background! You Profs must show some concern for the ignoramii among your readers!

    • Guru Says:


      Welcome to the club. I did not understand the details either — except top learn that quantum effects are important for photosynthesis. Let us wait for some commentary that we will be able to follow.

      On a different note, as in our traditional philosophy, these days you need bhashyas, tikas and tippanis before getting to the original🙂

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