[An] Australia-led team of researchers has discovered how algae that survive in very low levels of light are able to switch on and off a weird quantum phenomenon that occurs during photosynthesis.I have some idea of the relationship between coherence and decoherence, which explains the wave-fuction collapse—the point at which weird quantum probabilities are aligned with the standard probabilities of our stable and less ghostly world. I do not, however, have any idea of the role coherence plays in the harvesting of light for the production and storage of bio-energy. But I can say this for sure: The deeper we look into life, the more we see that many of the problems we are trying to solve with our seemingly advanced technologies have been solved at some point of the 3.5 billion years of life's evolution on this 4-billion-year-old planet. At some point before life went big, which constitutes much of the history of life, these bio-technologies were developed and distributed. Which is why even the complexity of a single-celled organism, such as the one described in this post, is just mind-boggling. Which is why when we turn to the level of microscopic cooperation needed to produce, say, a huge thing like a plant, an ant, or us, we must see our cities, jet planes, and communication networks as nothing but primitive.
The function in the algae of this quantum effect, known as coherence, remains a mystery, but it is thought it could help them harvest energy from the sun much more efficiently. Working out its role in a living organism could lead to technological advances, such as better organic solar cells and quantum-based electronic devices.
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It is part of an emerging field called quantum biology, in which evidence is growing that quantum phenomena are operating in nature, not just the laboratory, and may even account for how birds can navigate using earth's magnetic field.
"We studied tiny single-celled algae called cryptophytes that thrive in the bottom of pools of water, or under thick ice, where very little light reaches them," says senior author, Professor Paul Curmi, of the UNSW School of Physics.
- International Space Station & NASA