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Quantum effects in light-initiated reactions in biology

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It is well known that primary steps in photosynthesis rely on quantum mechanical phenomena. For instance, excitons or the collective electronic excitations of light-gathering macromolecules are a clear manifestation of collective quantum behaviour of the chromophores that form these complexes, and they are essential for optimal absorption of sunlight in photosynthesis. However, when it comes to excitation energy transfer and conversion in the picosecond time scale, it is not entirely clear which dynamical features can only be predicted within a quantum mechanical framework and how they correlate to the efficiency of the process. In this talk, I will discuss our recent research [1] which provides theoretical evidence both (i) that non-trivial quantum phenomena are manifested during primary steps in energy transfer in photosynthetic systems at room temperature, and (ii) that such non-classicality is concomitant with effective energy distribution. Our work suggests that a careful inspection of the dynamics and fluctuations of quantum-scale vibrations assisting transport, photo-transduction, photo-conversion and sensing in biomolecular processes could benchmark a common principle for non-trivial quantum effects in biology.

[1] E. J O ’Reilly and A. Olaya-Castro, “Non-classicality of the molecular vibrations assisting excitation energy transfer at room temperature” Nature Comm. 5, 3012 (2014)

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