Study detects predicted wavelike properties during photosynthesis
A dash of sunlight, a sprinkle of light-harvesting proteins and a healthy dollop of carbon dioxide is about all it takes to whip up a batch of tasty plant food — but you might want some quantum physics to stir the pot. Scientists have caught photosynthetic lake-dwelling algae performing long-lasting quantum tricks at room temperature. The results, published February 4 in Nature, suggest that quantum mechanics may be at the heart of sunlight-to-energy conversion in living organisms.
“This is quantum mechanics in a biological system,” says study coauthor Gregory Scholes, a physical chemist at the University of Toronto.
Photosynthesis relies on special proteins that absorb incoming photons, or particles of light. These photons excite electrons in the protein, touching off a series of electron transfers that ultimately ferry the energy-laden electrons to centralized collection stations (called photosystems) where the conversion of energy to ca