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Corrects research on photosynthesis

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A review article by 18 leading international researchers disproves the finding that quantum effects would play a crucial role in photosynthesis. One of the researchers is Sebastian Westenhoff, professor of biophysical chemistry at the University of Gothenburg.

Photosynthesis is the process where sunlight turns into energy in plants, which is crucial for all life on earth. In 2007, an article was published in the journal Nature which, with the help of a new type of spectroscopy, showed that energy can move "friction-free" through the photosynthetic proteins in the same way as in a quantum computer.

That this kind of quantum dynamics would be possible in living plants was so exciting that the research field eIllustration showing spinning arrows around proteins.xpanded rapidly. Countless articles proved this claim and in various ways tried to explain the quantum fluctuations. A new era of "quantum biology" was soon proclaimed in newspapers, books and science blogs.

“The problem is that the original claim was wrong. The signals did not depend on the quantum coherence between different chlorophyll molecules, but on “common” and well-documented vibrations in the molecules. The signals from the new spectroscopy method had been overinterpreted. The community simply did not fully understand the results. " says Sebastian Westenhoff, professor of biophysical chemistry at the University of Gothenburg.

Scientists doubted the prevailing theory

Correcting incorrect perceptions is a major part of the work of generating knowledge. Some researchers began to doubt the ideas, which were not compatible with well-established physical laws.

By carefully repeating the original experiments, research teams at the Max Planck Institute for Structural Dynamics in Hamburg and at Lund University could then finally prove that the previous assumptions were incorrect. This review article now seeks to correct the erroneous picture of quantum biology.

Portrait of Sebastian Westenhoff, smiling.“Although many studies in the past decade are based on incorrect premises, the work that has been done in this area of research has not been in vain. We have achieved a much deeper understanding of how photosynthesis is optimized " says Sebastian Westenhoff.

The article is available as open access in Quantum biology revisited
J. Cao, R. J. Cogdell, D. F. Coker, H.-G. Duan, J. Hauer, U. Kleinekathöfer, T. L. C. Jansen, T. Mančal, R. J. D. Miller, J. P. Ogilvie, V. Prokhorenko, T. Renger, H.-S. Tan, R. Tempelaar, M. Thorwart, E. Thyrhaug, S. Westenhoff, D. Zigmantas
Science Advances 6 (14), eaaz4888 (2020)

Illustration by Juergen Hauer.
Sebastian Westenhoff, photo Malin Arnesson.

Contact: Sebastian Westenhoff, 031-7863936, sebastian.westenhoff.2@gu.se