Switch in Quantum Phenomenon Discovered in AlgaeCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: June 17, 2014 02:25PM
With the complex and unobvious rules of quantum mechanics, one may expect to only find it in laboratories run by the brightest scientists. In truth though, quantum phenomena can be found throughout the world and outside of the lab, as Nature has evolved many species to exploit it. Now researchers at the University of New South Wales have discovered a species of algae that could help improve our understanding of how algae use quantum coherence to survive.
Algae, like the trees and plants around us, use photosynthesis to convert the energy of light into chemical energy. For those species with easy access to sunlight, this is not too complicated, but there are other species that live at the bottom of pools of water and under thick ice, where light is limited. To explain how these algae could survive, researchers have already discovered that they evolved proteins to use quantum coherence. When light enters the algae, it needs to enter the reaction center to be converted, and it was believed that the light would randomly bounce around inside the organism before first. With quantum coherence though, the light waves could move as one and more easily enter a superposition, allowing the waves to find the quickest path to the reaction center, and keep the algae alive in low-light environments. What the New South Wales researchers discovered is a species of algae with extra amino acids that have changed the structure of the protein, thereby disrupting coherence, effectively acting like a switch for quantum coherence.
Now armed with this information, the researchers want to identify where these different algae live, to better understand how quantum coherence kept the species alive. As our understanding of those algae improve, our ability to harness the energy of light should also improve.
Source: University of New South Wales