Quantum entanglement in photosynthesis and evolution

July 21, 2010, American Institute of Physics

Recently, academic debate has been swirling around the existence of unusual quantum mechanical effects in the most ubiquitous of phenomena, including photosynthesis, the process by which organisms convert light into chemical energy.

In particular, physicists have suggested that entanglement (the quantum interconnection of two or more objects like photons, electrons, or atoms that are separated in physical space) could be occurring in the photosynthetic complexes of plants, particularly in the pigment molecules, or chromophores. The quantum effects may explain why the structures are so efficient at converting light into energy -- doing so at 95 percent or more.

In a paper in The , which is published by the American Institute of Physics, these ideas are put to the test in a novel computer simulation of energy transport in a photosynthetic reaction center. Using the simulation, professor Shaul Mukamel and senior research associate Darius Abramavicius at the University of California, Irvine show that long-lived quantum coherence is an "essential ingredient for storage and manipulation," according to Mukamel. It is possible between chromophores even at room temperature, he says, and it "can strongly affect the light-harvesting efficiency."

If the existence of such effects can be substantiated experimentally, he says, this understanding of quantum energy transfer and charge separation pathways may help the design of that take their inspiration from nature.

Explore further: Untangling the quantum entanglement behind photosynthesis

More information: The article, "Quantum oscillatory exciton migration in photosynthetic reaction centers" by Darius Abramavicius and Shaul Mukamel will appear in The Journal of Chemical Physics. See: jcp.aip.org/

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3 / 5 (2) Jul 21, 2010
Solar energy is converted into chemical energy more efficiently (by about 7%) thanks to quantum coherence. The pigment array in thylakoid lamellas
i.e. quantasomes appear pretty similar to quantum dots arrays. Each quantasome contains about 230 to 300 chlorophyll molecules. They're regularly spaced in 150 x 180 A lattice, like quantum vortices within superconductors (Abrikosov lattice). All the molecules in each of these photo-synthetic units are spaced and oriented in such a way, captured photons are transferred from molecule to molecule by inductive resonance and the energy absorbed is transferred to as exciton.

Experiments have demonstrated, that the presence of the quantasome particles in chloroplast membrane is not a necessary condition for photoreduction activity of chloroplasts [J. Mol. Biol., 27, 323 (1967)] In prokaryota pigments are distributed uniformly on or in the thylakoid lamellae.

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