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Photosynthesis May Rely On Quantum Effect

kdawson posted about 7 years ago | from the good-exitations dept.

Biotech 234

forgethistory sends us to PhysOrg for a summary of new research suggesting that the near instantaneous energy transfer achieved by photosynthesis may rely on quantum effects. From the article: "Through photosynthesis, green plants and cyanobacteria are able to transfer sunlight energy to molecular reaction centers for conversion into chemical energy with nearly 100-percent efficiency. Speed is the key — the transfer of the solar energy takes place almost instantaneously so little energy is wasted as heat. How photosynthesis achieves this near instantaneous energy transfer is a long-standing mystery that may have finally been solved."

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234 comments

The Plants Are Right to Laugh at You, Ralph (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18717507)

I wonder if ferns ever look at us and laugh saying that non-quantum-sourced energy is so 3 billion years ago.

Re:The Plants Are Right to Laugh at You, Ralph (5, Funny)

slughead (592713) | about 7 years ago | (#18718225)

I wonder if ferns ever look at us and laugh saying that non-quantum-sourced energy is so 3 billion years ago.

Maybe so, but then some herbivore eat a thousand of them, we eat a hundred herbivores, and we're the benefactor of all their magic!

If humans were photoheterotrophic or photoautotrophic, we wouldn't have enough energy to do much more than sit there sulking like a stupid fern. One of the sad realities of a creature like Swamp Thing [imdb.com] (an apparent photoautotroph) is that he wouldn't really be able to move quickly at all. It'd be very easy for some cow to walk up and start nibbling on him (oh sweet irony). Adrienne Barbeau would have to dump his ass for something higher on the food chain like an amoeba.

Adrienne Barbeau was hot in Swamp Thing. You really want to give that up just so you can have quantum-enhanced solar power? Wait, that does sound pretty cool.

Re:The Plants Are Right to Laugh at You, Ralph (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718351)

"Adrienne Barbeau was hot in Swamp Thing."

and she was 37 when it was shot!

Re:The Plants Are Right to Laugh at You, Ralph (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 7 years ago | (#18718765)

I have not seen Swamp Thing, but it is entirely possible that light may not have been the creature's sole energy source. Also, perhaps the creature did a lot of lying around soaking up energy so that it had reserves that would allow it to move around when it needed to.

not solved, just possibly more understood. (1, Insightful)

rucs_hack (784150) | about 7 years ago | (#18717529)

Knowing a possible mechanism is important, yes, but that's a long way from having a workable implementation of the method that is useful in a technological sense.

Re:not solved, just possibly more understood. (3, Interesting)

Zeinfeld (263942) | about 7 years ago | (#18717699)

Knowing a possible mechanism is important, yes, but that's a long way from having a workable implementation of the method that is useful in a technological sense.

All interactions at the atomic level are quantum effects. A photon can only interact through quantum effects. The statement in the article is totally meaningless.

We have known that photosynthesis is a quantum effect since Einstein's paper on black body radiation.

More to it than that (5, Informative)

Lockejaw (955650) | about 7 years ago | (#18717905)

When a photon strikes a chlorophyll, it adds its energy to an electron, allowing the electron to escape from its atom (previously known quantum mechanics). It was previously thought that the electron would then go bouncing around between chlorophyll molecules until it found a pheophytin molecule (slightly different chlorophyll). Once it hits that molecule, it activates an electron-transport chain (a similar process happens when burning glucose in a mitochondrion).
TFA suggests that the hopping uses quantum superposition to traverse the chlorophyll molecules more quickly. When the traversal reaches the pheophytin, the superposition collapses into that single state which found the pheophytin.

Re:not solved, just possibly more understood. (3, Interesting)

DrWho520 (655973) | about 7 years ago | (#18718015)

Yes, but while knowing the mechanism netted someone their PhD (or some PhD their tenure,) a workable implementation will net some company billions of dollars. Nearly 100% efficient solar cells? Yes, please. Pass the chlorophyll over here.

Starbucks must take advantage of the same source (1, Funny)

physicsboy500 (645835) | about 7 years ago | (#18717557)

because I know I'm instantly up and going after I get my morning coffee!

Re:Starbucks must take advantage of the same sourc (1)

TheMadcapZ (868196) | about 7 years ago | (#18718169)

Gee, I wonder where coffee comes from? Hmmmm, I don't know, maybe a plant? Where does that plant get energy from?

Enjoy your cup of sunshine!

Re:Starbucks must take advantage of the same sourc (1)

Xtravar (725372) | about 7 years ago | (#18718863)

Pedantic correction:
Caffeine is not energy, it is a stimulant.

I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effects (2, Insightful)

JeffSh (71237) | about 7 years ago | (#18717581)

I was thinking about this just the other night, strange coincidence. There are probably a lot of functions like photosynthesis that rely on quantum effects. One of them might be the idea of consciousness. Consciousness may not be so easily explained without taking into account quantum effects. If self awareness is enabled through some sort of quantum effect, imagine the philosophical implications.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 7 years ago | (#18717639)

I don't know about consciousness, but in his novel Blue Mars [amazon.com] (last book of the Mars trilogy), published a decade ago already, Kim Stanley Robinson made use of research that suggests that memory relies on a quantum effect.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (4, Interesting)

meringuoid (568297) | about 7 years ago | (#18717731)

I don't know about consciousness, but in his novel Blue Mars (last book of the Mars trilogy), published a decade ago already, Kim Stanley Robinson made use of research that suggests that memory relies on a quantum effect.

Would that mean that attempts to upload human minds to computers would fall foul of the no-cloning theorem? Such constraints on the duplication of quantum information would have interesting effects on philosophical problems of identity.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (2, Insightful)

eraserewind (446891) | about 7 years ago | (#18718021)

but in his novel Blue Mars
You mean you actually finished it? :)

Red Mars was good, but by Blue Mars, I gave up partway through thinking I really don't care about these people or their dumb politics.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718259)

Exactly what I thought. He's too human for me.. :) I'll take Rendevouz with Rama over Robinson any day.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

AJWM (19027) | about 7 years ago | (#18718469)

I gave up partway through thinking I really don't care about these people or their dumb politics.

That's about the way I felt about Red Mars, and I wasn't even reading it but listening to the book on tape while commuting. Actually more the soap operas than the politics. Maybe if I'd been reading it I could have just skipped those bits.

(That's what I did with the Chronicles of Covenant that somebody once gave me. Read the beginning and ending bits where he's in the real world, and skipped over the stupid swords'n'sorcery stuff where his character is so revolting. These days I'm a lot more ready to just toss the whole thing; life's too short.)

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

joshier (957448) | about 7 years ago | (#18718305)

I hope so. Uploading a brain etc or living in a machine scares the sh*t out of me.

so when I did an MRI (1)

vlad_petric (94134) | about 7 years ago | (#18718269)

Did that erase me :)?

Re:so when I did an MRI (2, Funny)

meringuoid (568297) | about 7 years ago | (#18718793)

It erased you, but the data in storage stayed in place. Your neurocircuitry rebooted and launched a new instance of the consciousness process, which loaded in the existing memories seamlessly. You just think you're the original you.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18717651)

it must be sad to not have a life. i'm sorry.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (4, Funny)

CmdrGravy (645153) | about 7 years ago | (#18717693)

Was there any specific quantum effect you had in mind or did your spell checker mysteriously substitute the phrase "quantum effects" for the word magic ?

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (2, Funny)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | about 7 years ago | (#18717737)

Was there any specific quantum effect you had in mind or did your spell checker mysteriously substitute the phrase "quantum effects" for the word magic ?

Maybe his spell checker uses quantum effects!

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 7 years ago | (#18717877)

Was there any specific quantum effect you had in mind or did your spell checker mysteriously substitute the phrase "quantum effects" for the word quantum effects ?


Hey! Mine keeps doing that, too!

Philosophical implications? (3, Insightful)

C10H14N2 (640033) | about 7 years ago | (#18717785)

None that weren't already stated in numerous terms thousands of years ago in virtually every culture.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (2, Interesting)

spottedkangaroo (451692) | about 7 years ago | (#18717797)

In one of the various debunkings of What the *bleep* do we know they cover that the neuronal activity in your brain is way too big to be affected by the very small quantum strangenesses that come up. On average they have no effect on your thinking.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18717843)

Getting off topic: You might be interested in reading the books by Roger Penrose, a well known physicist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Penrose [wikipedia.org]. His book 'The Emperor's New Mind' is about how Godel's incompleteness theorem (and the fact that we get around it) and other facts indicate a non-standard physics basis for the mind. His later books expand on the idea. Personally, I think that he's incorrect, and his work has had very little effect on the field of neuroscience, but it's a interesting read. (Why is he wrong? Because minds don't prove, they 'believe' and 'know' and are often wrong, so Godel does not apply).

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (2, Insightful)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 7 years ago | (#18717907)

It's quite possible given that think in terms of probability rather than absolutes even through our resulting probable answer borders on an absolute factual answer. Perhaps this is why we have such hard time processing mathematics in our head, yet not art or concepts.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

eraserewind (446891) | about 7 years ago | (#18718077)

We process mathematics seamlessly in our head. How else do you thing you are capable of running to catch a moving ball? The trouble is that is is too seamless. It's not accessible to our higher functions as a set of subroutines with a well documented API.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

simm1701 (835424) | about 7 years ago | (#18718307)

Maybe the EU could help with that...

"God, we are fining you 3 million Euros a day until you provide fully documented APIs for all neural functions"

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (3, Interesting)

mattpalmer1086 (707360) | about 7 years ago | (#18717933)

Why do you need to invoke one mystery to "explain" another? I can't see why consciousness "may not be so easily explained without taking into account quantum effects". What particular things about consciousness seem to indicate quantum effects to you?

Other people have proposed this before, but present a theory of why quantum effects may be necessary. Roger Penrose makes the argument that we can compute things that a Turing-style computer could not compute, so something else must be going on. His proof that some things we do cannot be done by a Turing style computer isn't exactly accepted though, and no-one seriously believes that the brain works in this way in any case.

Also, consciousness is not the same thing as "self-awareness". Is a dog conscious? Is it self-aware? What about a rabbit? When I dream, I'm not usually self-aware, but there's some sort of consciousness there. What about phenomena like blind-sight, where a person is self-aware, but unconscious of visual information, even though they can access that information by guessing remarkably accurately, just without any direct consciousness of it. Does this mean that these supposed quantum-consciousness effects have broken down only for information originating in visual centers, but keeps working on all other information?

Of course, coming from quantum theory, there is the Copenhagen Interpretation which places a special status on the 'observer' - but no-one has managed to define what an observer is, or whether they must be conscious or not.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718057)

I have heard the "we don't have free will because we're just a big pile of chemicals whose interactions are destined to run down in a specific manner" often from scientific types as a reason to *ignore* all philosophy, and/or as proof that we are no more entitled to a soul than a can of soda.

Placing an unexplained/unpredictable phenomena back into the equation reinstates the validity, for many people, of thinking about thought.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

HolyCrapSCOsux (700114) | about 7 years ago | (#18718849)

OK. I'm going to ramble a bit here, but bear with me.
There will always exist a level of uncertainty. If, somehow, we could map a complete brain and know where every single neuron is and in what ways it is connected, we may be able to watch the chain of processes for a second or two. Then problems arise.
The brain gives preferential treatment to certain pathways for information flow. This is why the brain can remap itself in case of damage. furthermore, since our brains are organic, there is no reason to expect even the brains of twins to be connected in EXACTLY the same manner. Their slightly different viewpoints will diverge from the moment their brains begin to fire (one is inverted relative to the other in the womb for instance). One will emerge before the other, one will suckle before the other, etc.
It is my opinion, that free will is indeed a farce, but it's unpredictability stems from both the lack of knowledge of the initial state, and the sheer number of different ways that the brain can change over time in response to outside stimuli.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | about 7 years ago | (#18718859)

Roger Penrose makes the argument that we can compute things that a Turing-style computer could not compute, so something else must be going on.

What things can we compute that a Turing machine cannot?

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

Lane.exe (672783) | about 7 years ago | (#18717935)

Actually, there's lots of good reasons to think that we don't need any sort of physical explanation for consciousness at all, philosophically. It wouldn't be very philosophically interesting if we could reduce the philosophy of mind to quantum physics, because it wouldn't be philosophical, capisce?

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

kripkenstein (913150) | about 7 years ago | (#18718393)

Consciousness may not be so easily explained without taking into account quantum effects.
Penrose suggested as much, in his book The Emperor's New Mind [wikipedia.org]. However, this theory is not regarded as serious by any neuroscientists that I am aware of; chemistry and electricity/magnetism is supposed to be able to account for brain function, according to them.

If self awareness is enabled through some sort of quantum effect, imagine the philosophical implications.
Actually, the real philosophical implications come from self-awareness being generated by physical means, be they quantum, classical, or whatever. The physics details are less important, for philosophers at least.

Quantum mind (1)

wytcld (179112) | about 7 years ago | (#18718499)

You might want to go to Salzburg this summer to attend the Quantum Mind [sbg.ac.at] conference. You'll find a number of top physicists, a few philosophers, some famous mathematicians, and at least one anaesthesiologist [quantumconsciousness.org] (hey, you don't know what you've got till it's gone).

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

TechForensics (944258) | about 7 years ago | (#18718613)

I think I see what you mean? That consciousness is a phenomenon that does not inhere in chemical or physical processes other than quantum effects? But it is much more likely that consciousness does not inhere in ANY physical process we understand or can measure (by definition, or we could measure something distinctive about conscious vs. non-conscious entities). Honestly, though, this speculation is pretty far out.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (2, Interesting)

denoir (960304) | about 7 years ago | (#18718739)

There are probably a lot of functions like photosynthesis that rely on quantum effects. One of them might be the idea of consciousness. Consciousness may not be so easily explained without taking into account quantum effects. If self awareness is enabled through some sort of quantum effect, imagine the philosophical implications.
It's called the Orch-OR theory [wikipedia.org] and is a popular object of ridicule amongst neuroscientists. While consciousness is a very active field of research and there is still much to be done, it is very clear that the brain does not work at the quantum level. Being a warm moist place, it is actually one of the worst possible locations for quantum coherence.

Contrary to popular belief, consciousness is not all that mysterious. We can with our knowledge today say with pretty good certainty that it's a post processing effect. After other mechanisms in the brain have done their processing and made a decision, consciousness kicks in in order to map the responses of the various parts of the brain into a coherent symbolic higher-level structure. Basically consciousness tries to explain on what grounds a decision is made in order to facilitate deductive reasoning.

The funny thing is that there is a quite long delay (average 500 ms) between when a decision is made in parts of the brain that you are not aware of to when you are aware of decision - and think that your consciousness is involved in making that decision. In reality the decision has been made a long time ago without the consciousness being involved.

The Orch-OR theory and similar ones are mainly a desperate attempt to explain away the data that rules out conscious thought as a first cause of decision. In reality though, consciousness is just another example of human exceptionalism that we have to abandon - just like we had to learn to live with the fact that earth is not at the center of the universe.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | about 7 years ago | (#18718811)

Consciousness may not be so easily explained without taking into account quantum effects.

Consciousness can be easily explained in three words: It's an illusion. Well, okay, one of those three words is a contraction.

Re:I'm sure a lot more things rely on quantum effe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718875)

Yes, this possibility has been considered. quantum consciousness [quantumconsciousness.org] The criticism is that the brain is not a very good place for quantum effects to happen. It's temperature is to high, and there is in general to much noise, all the interesting quantum effect get canceled out. This new research show that quantum effects can be found in biological systems, which may open the possibility for it to happen in the brain as well.

Since I have a degree in Theology, I am very interested in the philosophical and theological implications of quantum effects happening in the brain. Quantum mechanics would allow for the possibility of free will in the human brain, since in the quantum world things can happen without a prior cause. This would not prove the existence of free will. It could be that the brain is just being controlled by random effects. If the brain does turn out to be a quantum computer, this is where the philosophers will be arguing. Are these events with no prior cause really random or are they in a real sense free when combined in the brain. BTW, a lot of people try to make a distinction between the brain and the soul. I don't have a problem with this distinction ( I believe in the soul) but I don't think it helps matters if classical physics can completely describe the brain. There has to be some way for a free soul to connect with a deterministic brain and I don't see any way to do that which is consistent with the modern science of the brain.

As a slashdoter, I am very interested in free will, so that I can continue to use linux and hate microsoft.

Even more amazing... (5, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 7 years ago | (#18717615)

... it's also been discovered that *all* physical phenomena may also rely on Quantum Effect.

Re:Even more amazing... (1)

Gospodin (547743) | about 7 years ago | (#18717787)

Yeah. I mean, who would have guessed that a chemical process in which energy from light causes atoms to bind in different ways could have anything to do with quantum mechanics? Crazy!

Re:Even more amazing... (3, Funny)

Carewolf (581105) | about 7 years ago | (#18717943)

Well, except gravity.

Prove it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718123)

Yeah, I know. If you could, you'd have about 6 Nobel Prizes...

Re:Prove it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718211)

AFAIK, it's been proven that quantum theory and general relativity are incompatible. You'd get those 6 Nobel prizes if you could find the single theory that explains both quantum and relativistic effects.

Re:Prove it! (1)

Cyberax (705495) | about 7 years ago | (#18718365)

Nope, current methods (renormalization and permutation theory) used in quantum mechanics just do not work well in curved space.

Re:Even more amazing... (4, Interesting)

JDevers (83155) | about 7 years ago | (#18717983)

Maybe a better summary would be that the energy transfer in photosynthesis is handled by a very long lived wavelike electronic quantum coherence. Regardless of what everyone on /. thinks, this is a pretty big deal. Suggesting something is likely or even almost certain is not the same thing as proving it.

Re:Even more amazing... (1)

chebucto (992517) | about 7 years ago | (#18718081)

But the news is that we _need_ to use quantum theory to usefully explain photosynthesis. The same is not true for other important chemical reactions - burning hydrocarbons, for example.

Fight The Good Fight (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18717643)

I think science has finally managed to trip it's self up and is revealed in its true colours, maybe now scientists will turn back to God ?

I think it's pretty obvious that plants are not going to "evolve" quantum technology on their own, even with all the benefits The Lord has provided us with we are unable to manage anything close to a 100% energy source and we are thinking, feeling humans and not mere plants. Isn't it fitting that the Lord chooses something as beautiful as plants and glorious as the sun to finally reveal himself to scientists.

The Last Days can't be far off now brothers, Hallelujah ! Rejoice !

Re:Fight The Good Fight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18717735)

Hahahahahaha!!! Me don' know what science iz!

Also, when you read the above post out loud in a really sarcastic-sounding voice it makes it even better!

Science: it works, bitches!

Re:Fight The Good Fight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718177)

Obligatory link to origin of that quote: http://xkcd.com/c54.html [xkcd.com]

The T-shirt looks better, of course, but there is no direct link to that. You have to rummage through the store.

Re:Fight The Good Fight (1)

SatireWolf (1050450) | about 7 years ago | (#18717931)

I would assume that you think that all scientists are atheistic heathens hell bent on laying the smack down on religion? Seriously, who comes up with this dribble? Monks in the dark ages WERE scientists you ideotic clodd! If you'll do a bit of reading, you'll realize that science was born from a religious belief in an ordered universe. If it's just all divine and mystical, then we better pray to the divine quantum demigods, because meta-realm science is just so predictable!

But really, why must science predicate a lack of religion? Is it not our 'divine' right to explore our fundamental understanding of the universe, thus allowing us to be better stewards of that which we've been given?

Maybe we should go back to living in grass huts, burning peat, and bathing in the same streams we urinate in. Because it's all been 'given' to us, man didn't have a thing to say in the matter! Yes, science is evil, go back to your grass hut you backwards science hating pansy!

Re:Fight The Good Fight (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 7 years ago | (#18718129)

I won't speak for the author, but I think you and I read that in very different ways. He was mocking the creationist/anti-evolution crowd, not implying that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Certainly a Roman Catholic would not have the foundation of their faith shattered upon learning that plants had evolved a quantum mechanism to convert sunlight to energy, though a creationist might... if it were true!

Re:Fight The Good Fight (1)

SatireWolf (1050450) | about 7 years ago | (#18718215)

True enough :) I was equally trying to mock fun from the other direction. Perhaps a larger hammer is necessary. I will do better next time! I must consult my tim the toolman taylor's approach to comment improvement.

Re:Fight The Good Fight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718133)

I have a feeling you're a troll, because you appear to be the embodiment of how atheists stereotype people of faith.

Obviously, a plant would never evolve quantum technology. Rather, a plant would adapt to use quantum mechanics just like it would any other property of physics. The question is what aspect of the photosynthesis process facilitates the quantum oscillations and how can we use this in our own production of energy.

This story just adds more to my marvel at how well the universe is designed. If atheists need to set up a straw man to belittle people of faith each time a new scientific discovery is made, then perhaps they are feeling a bit inadequate in the belief department. If you want to belittle a person of faith, do it through honest debate, and stop using puppets to further your ideology.

Re:Fight The Good Fight (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | about 7 years ago | (#18718527)

Hallelujah brother, yet more evidence that the True designer is much more intelligent and, dare I say it, omnipotent and wise, than man can ever hope to be. How could we, humble servants as we are, ever hope to design anything as cunning and efficient as that which Our Lord has designed for us.

Re:Fight The Good Fight (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 7 years ago | (#18718533)

Obviously, a plant would never evolve quantum technology. Rather, a plant would adapt to use quantum mechanics just like it would any other property of physics.
What is the difference? The offspring of plants that used the effect did better than those that didn't, eventually displacing those that didn't. I don't think that it matters whether or not you call that "evolution" or "adaptation".

Re:Fight The Good Fight (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 7 years ago | (#18718251)

This is tiring. Do we need one of these for every single science story posted to slashdot?

Re:Fight The Good Fight (1)

TopSpin (753) | about 7 years ago | (#18718845)

This is tiring. Do we need one of these for every single science story posted to slashdot?

Unfortunately, yes. The fact is there are a lot of delusional people 'speaking in tongues' every Sunday at their local congregation, readily absorbing whatever anti-intellectual claptrap is thrown their way. Ridicule provides mutual assurance among the rest of us that this thinking is aberrant. That keeps mainstream politicians from pandering to it in overt ways. Organized religion no longer has any effective means of moderating the worst of the Benny Hinn's or the fools that keep him on his pedestal, so it's left to the rest of us. Well aimed ridicule is highly effective and I suspect the alternative, pretending respect, could easily end up being less non-violent.

Nuclear Sense of Smell vindicated? (3, Interesting)

RobertB-DC (622190) | about 7 years ago | (#18717711)

I can't seem to find the link (Google is not friendly today), but does this perhaps justify the researcher who postulated that the sense of smell comes from something akin to detecting nuclear resonance, not a simple chemical interaction? I recall that one detractor said that his theory was as outlandish as saying that food was digested in the stomach via tiny nuclear reactors. But it explained many things that didn't make sense otherwise -- like why cyanide smells like almonds.

He's apparently gone on to success in the perfume industry.

Someone find the link... this is driving me nuts.

Re:Nuclear Sense of Smell vindicated? (2, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 7 years ago | (#18717811)

like why cyanide smells like almonds.



Wasn't that because bitter almonds actually do contain cyanide ?

Re:Nuclear Sense of Smell vindicated? (2, Informative)

jfengel (409917) | about 7 years ago | (#18718009)

Yes, they do. GP had a bad example. But there are other cases of things with similar smell and very different shapes that are not well handled by the classic lock-and-key theory (e.g. enantiomers).

The resonance theory is a good and interesting alternative, despite serious difficulties understanding the mechanism.

Re:Nuclear Sense of Smell vindicated? (4, Informative)

chhamilton (264664) | about 7 years ago | (#18717833)

It was actually featured in a Slashdot story not long ago:

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/12/1 1/1952201 [slashdot.org]

Unfortunately, the original Nature article is now subscriber only (http://www.nature.com/news/2006/061204/full/06120 4-10.html [nature.com]). The guy behind the work is one Dr. Lucia Turin, and he has indeed achieved some commercial success through his company Flexitral [flexitral.com].

Re:Nuclear Sense of Smell vindicated? (1)

drewski3420 (969623) | about 7 years ago | (#18717945)

Someone find the link... this is driving me nuts.

Like the pirate in that bar joke?

Arrrrrrrrgh.

Re:Nuclear Sense of Smell vindicated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18718435)

I believe it is the steering wheel in the pants joke you are looking for

I don't understand (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | about 7 years ago | (#18717827)

I don't think I really understand what that article is going on about. It seems to be saying that there is something which recieves the sunlight and something else which is the molecular energy. Between these two there are numerous ways of transferring the sunlight energy but some are better than others and that each route is simultaneously probed by both sides until the best one is found which is then used for the energy transferrance.

Is that even close to whats being described here ?

Re:I don't understand (1)

GMO (209499) | about 7 years ago | (#18717993)

I understand the 'classical' model of photosynthesis, where it goes something like:

light->chlorophyll->quinone->->proton pump

Very, very vaguely. And the transfer is considered to be an electron 'hopping' from one molecule to the next.

This new, quantum model talks about the transfer occuring through resonance.

Actually, it doesn't make much sense to me, either!

Oh boy. (3, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | about 7 years ago | (#18717911)

This explains why the hedge in my yard wasn't doing so well until it was temporarily taken over by the spirit of a wise and charming fern from the future, which corected everything that was wrong in the hedge's life before moving on to my neighbor's lawn ten years ago.

Speed helps, but that's only half the picture (5, Informative)

Atraxen (790188) | about 7 years ago | (#18717923)

The summary is slightly misleading, but this disconnect has big implications for the reader's understanding (imho)...

I can name plenty of chemical reactions that are complete on the femtosecond scale, and while speed helps, that's certainly not the whole picture. What matters is how mismatched the energy levels between the reactant and the product are. When transitioning between energy levels, either energy is transferred out of the system by nonradiative release (heat), luminescence, photofragmentation, or transfer to a chemical partner - this last case is what the article is referring to. Getting to an energy level which can react is going to result in a heat deposition for at least some photons because any photon of a higher energy than the reacting state must deposit some of that energy just to be able to react at all.

http://www.monos.leidenuniv.nl/smo/basics/images/j ablonski.gif [leidenuniv.nl] Unfortunately, this scheme doesn't show photofragmentation or energy transfer to another molecule, but I'm in a rush so it'll do.

The squiggly lines show possible heat depositions - the molecule starts in the ground state, absorbs a photon (the yellow up arrow), then relaxes to the excited state. This excited state then does whatever it's going to do. If 100% of the time under a set of conditions (i.e. a quantum yield of 1.00), the excited molecule follows a particular pathway we call that perfectly efficient. In the specific example of photosynthesis, this means that all of the absorbing chlorophylls transfer the energy along the photosynthetic pathway (I'm lumping all the subsequent processes together here). It does not mean that 100% of the energy got transferred along the way - there will always be some photon that deposits more energy than the reacting state has, meaning some energy will be converted to heat.

In short form (if you didn't feel like reading all this): efficiency in this case refers primarily to how often the molecule dumps its energy into photosynthesis instead of all to heat, luminescence, etc. It's not referring to the energy throughput, as some photons will always be an imperfect energy match, and the extra energy will end up as heat.

Now lets make super effecient solar cells (1)

Diamonddavej (851495) | about 7 years ago | (#18717925)

Once we understand the fundamentals of photosynthesis we could learn to engineer near 100% efficient organic solar cells, current silicon solar cells are expensive and are c. 16% efficient at best. For example, primitive photosynthetic pathways found in bacterial could be copied the man made organic solar cells that could be used to generate hydrogen as a by-product of photosynthesis. I suspect this is the aim of the researchers, they may have an eye on patents and are keeping quite. http://www.afrlhorizons.com/Briefs/Jun03/ML0227.ht ml [afrlhorizons.com]

Re:Now lets make super effecient solar cells (1)

Goaway (82658) | about 7 years ago | (#18718185)

Sorry to break it to you, but the efficiency of photosynthesis sucks horribly. We're doing far, far better with our silicon cells.

Re:Now lets make super effecient solar cells (1)

maxume (22995) | about 7 years ago | (#18718513)

Unfortunately, photosynthesis isn't anywhere near 100% efficient. The nifty swifty with biomass isn't that it is really efficient, it is that 'maintenance' is really cheap, because you barely have to do it.

Photovoltaics? (1)

Trifthen (40989) | about 7 years ago | (#18717965)

Let me be the first to welcome this new research as more than a wacky discovery concerning quantum effects. If we can figure this out, which seems to be the case, imagine the efficiency of future solar cells.

100% efficiency (5, Informative)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 7 years ago | (#18717989)

Some half witted reporter's failed attempt in dumbing down a routine research paper.

Yeah, sure the energy transfer efficiency is 100% for every photon that participates in the reaction. But of all the photons falling on the leaf, hardly 2% of them participate in reactions. Some gets reflected, some gets absorbed without any reaction. Even solar cells have better energy conversion efficiency than plants. Really. As for quantum effects, almost all the photo reactions are quantum mechanics. They have to be. The film camera emulsion has greater percentage of photons participating in reaction than chlorophyll.

Re:100% efficiency (1)

Eccles (932) | about 7 years ago | (#18718591)

The flaw in your argument, though, is that plants don't have conversion efficiency as their overriding goal. As long as it's good enough to keep the species propagating, the plants won't develop greater efficiency. A human-built equivalent, however, would be targeting higher output, and thus might get more out of the process.

Moreover, a plant-derived solar cell might be cheaper and easier to produce, essentially growing itself rather than requiring high-grade silicon, etc.

Re:100% efficiency (1)

Evan Meakyl (762695) | about 7 years ago | (#18718661)

I know we are far from this, but I dream of the days where we (humains) will be able to build "cells" which can use the light energy to transform the CO2 to O2 in a similar way of what are doing plants, but with a huge yield! Each time I see breakthroughs like this one (the better we understand, the better we can copy) and those dealing with solar cells, I think about that!

100% (2, Informative)

fermion (181285) | about 7 years ago | (#18718067)

I must take issue with the 100% efficiency. Efficiency, as I know it, is a ability to convert stored energy into useful work. I know of no engine, artificial or natural, that can do this with 100%, which is of course prohibited by the known laws of thermodynamics. In particular, I have seen photosynthesis calculation that set the efficiency of photosynthesis as low at 3%. Even in the simplistic case, it appears that 50-70% of the energy in the process of photosynthesis.

Likely more biological examples too (1)

mattr (78516) | about 7 years ago | (#18718279)

Consider the findings of that (sorry forget the name) scientist who was working on biologically evolved electronic circuits. He discovered the bizarre circuits that resulted were sometimes more efficient than human-designed onces, but very hard to figure out. In particular he discovered the circuits sometimes made use of electromagnetic coupling to other parts of the circuit that didn't seem to do anything, and also found they sometimes only worked in narrow temperature ranges.

Considering the amount of time evolution has had, it would be amazing if quantum effects were not in fact part of efficient biological circuits.

Possibly things that for which their purpose is not currently known will in fact prove to have some kind of quantum, electromagnetic or other type of effect that is not immediately apparent but critical to operation.

It is interesting that this was shown at 50 kelvin. Perhaps photosynthesis does not require moving parts and this is why photosynthesis was the first process shown to require quantum effects for its efficiency. We now need ways (if there can be any) to study systems at the temperatures of life, at least low temperature life. For example there is that mold that was found growing outside of the Russian space station IIRC.

One question I have, which just shows how little I understand physics, is about how this "searchig for the most efficient path" actually works. Presumably it is also the basis of quantum computing. That is, if we were in a many worlds continuum then most worlds would pick the inefficient paths, so presumably the naming "many worlds" doesn't really reflect the theory, plus there is a mechanism involved that seeks a most stable ground state (which in plants somehow comes about from picking the most efficient energy absorption path). Since this is important to the life of the organism it suggests and anti-entropic bias..? If someone can explain what different paths exist and how the most efficient one is selected works I'd appreciate it. Very cool stuff!

MIGHT depend on quantum effect? (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | about 7 years ago | (#18718491)

So lets see, photons ( quantum mechanics, or QM for short ) is absorbed into chlorophyl molecules, exciting them in the process (QM). The excited energy is then somehow transformmed to break the chemical bonds (QM) of CO2 and water molecules creating sugar molecules with a different quantum mechanical binding energy. Now who would have thought that this process could involve quantum mechanics? Yes, the article is interesting otherwise, but is there really a need to highlight the "amazing" fact that quantum mechanics is involved? Quantum mechanics isn't new, especially not the idea that it is crucial to epxlaining light ( Einstein showed that it 1905 ) so there really isn't any need to mention it in every article title that deals with molecular scale phenomena. If it is small enough it will involve QM.

So what (1)

aristolochene (997556) | about 7 years ago | (#18718593)

Other biochemical systems have been shown to rely on QM effects. See, for example,

http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/jacsat/20 06/128/i24/abs/ja061585l.html [acs.org]

There is even some debate that enzymes may have evolved to take advantage of QM tunneling and the like. This is interesting, but not "news for nerds"

Seriously, if you want to make science 'interesting', just stick the words nano and quantum in front and everyone will listen.
 
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