Plants 'seen doing quantum physics'

Ursa major

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The idea that plants make use of quantum physics to harvest light more efficiently has received a boost.

Plants gather packets of light called photons, shuttling them deep into their cells where their energy is converted with extraordinary efficiency.

A report in Science journal adds weight to the idea that an effect called a "coherence" helps determine the most efficient path for the photons.

From http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22996054.
 

Venusian Broon

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I think the quote near the end of the article (my bolded text), sums up my thinking:

"There are still several questions regarding how the results of this and other… measurements of highly purified protein extracts relate to the natural sunlight conditions experienced by photosynthetic organisms," he (A sceptical scientist working in the same field) told BBC News

Mind you - as every particle we see is 'quantum mechanical' and we and all plants and animals are made up with them, then surely everything is 'doing quantum physics'.

Perhaps they mean that natural systems are using exotic properties of quantum mechanics, ones we're just discovering ourselves right now, to do practical stuff - like the theory that some birds use quantum entanglement to 'see' magnetic fields.
 

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I too am a bit sceptical - well, a lot sceptical, to be honest - if for no other reason that the effect seems to be being observed at second or third hand; this might mean there are other mechanisms giving the same end result, for instance. (And I think a certain bias may be involved, because plants are "dumb"; but if the mechanism is entirely within a molecule, the fact that the molecule happens to be in a plant (where better), rather than, say, an animal, is neither here nor there. ;))

On the other hand, we know of a number of remarkable developments - e.g. the eight (or is it nine?) different types of eyes, not to mention the visual processing required to make eyes more than interesting structures - where evolution "has happened upon" useful mutations and, because of the help they give in the "survival of the fittest" the organisms possessing the mutations have survived where those without them have been lost. (I'm obviously simplifying wildly, here.)

If certain molecules** - I think the article mentioned a molecule was involved - happen, by their (very fine) structure, the ability to react to changes and maintain a certain focus (to probably misuse that word) at the quantum level, I don't see why this wouldn't give the organisms that possess this molecule an advantage.




** - I'm assuming the article is using the normal definition of a molecule. And if it is, I would have thought that, unless the scientists believe the plant is acting upon this molecule, that molecule ought to be studied in isolation. This would both let us more clearly observe whatever is actually going on and see if we can utilise the molecule, or the quantum trick it's using (if it is), to improve the efficiency of our own light collecting systems.
 

Venusian Broon

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If certain molecules** - I think the article mentioned a molecule was involved - happen, by their (very fine) structure, the ability to react to changes and maintain a certain focus (to probably misuse that word) at the quantum level, I don't see why this wouldn't give the organisms that possess this molecule an advantage.

I totally agree - I mean evolution has had billions of years, especially with bacteria, to explore a huge amount of the configuration space of allowable proteins that life might generate, and will select for the best that suit current conditions, for what ever purpose.

And the coherence effect is for me the bedrock of QM - I'd expect it to be everywhere! Why not doing something useful in plants :)

I suppose however proving it is going to be extremely tricky - because it is my understanding that to examine a protein, you need to make vast quantities of it to do experiments on it and in pure form they will generate a crystal i.e. a regular lattice of identical proteins. Conditions that I imagine just don't exist in the original bacteria.

i.e. this coherence effect may be an artefact because of the preparation of sample itself, itself forming meta-structures that might explain the results.

Proving that it is actually happening in a single protein molecule hit by a single photon, is either practically impossible right now, or will take an extraordinary experiment. I think it took years to do the 'fire one electron at a time' through a macroscopic double slit experiment, to show that yes, each single electron going through the slits were 'going through both slits and interfering with itself'. Goodness knows how you go about doing that with a something like protein - and in the conditions seen in nature.
 

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