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New study undermines ideas on the importance of the special quantum mechanical effects in photosynthesis

The emergence and evolution of photosynthesis played a decisive role when life on earth began four billion years ago. In the past decade, some researchers have presented claims that quantum mechanical coherence plays an important role in this complex process. These ideas have now been critically evaluated in a study published in the scientific journal Science Advances.
Researcher in laboratory. Photo.

Photosynthesis, in which living organisms transform solar energy into chemical energy often stored in sugar molecules, is the basis for almost all life on Earth. Despite this, the intricate functions of photosynthesis are not completely understood. One hypothesis that has gained a lot of attention and wide-spread popularity in recent years is that quantum coherence – excited superposition of quantum mechanical states – is used by nature in a smart way to optimise photosynthesis. The new study, in which researchers from Lund University have played an important role, now shows that this is not the case.

“Quantum biology is an exciting concept that has stirred great interest in recent years. It has been proposed and popularized that some concepts of quantum biology may provide explanations why photosynthesis is so efficient and robust. Our study, however, shows that the proposed quantum mechanical phenomenon is not necessary for understanding the essence of photosynthesis”, says Donatas Zigmantas, professor of chemical physics at Lund University.

In multiple ultrafast spectroscopy studies of photosynthetic complexes, the research team discovered that the quantum coherence disappears in an extremely short time of 100 femtoseconds (0.0000000000001 second). Far too quickly for it to potentially play a role in the function of photosynthesis.

In addition to Lund University, the following higher education institutions took part in the study: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Glasgow, Boston University, Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter, University of Hamburg, Technical University of Munich, Jakobs University Bremen, University of Groningen, Charles University, University of Toronto, University of Michigan, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Columbia University, University of Gothenburg.

The study is presented in the scientific journal Science Advances.

Publication: "Quantum biology revisited" - sciencemag.org

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