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Dong Xu and Klaus Schulten. Coupling of protein motion to electron transfer in a photosynthetic reaction center: Investigating the low temperature behaviour in the framework of the spin-boson model. Chemical Physics, 182:91-117, 1994.

Cross-section through a leaf cell

New findings suggest that nicotine inhaled from e-cigarettes could contribute to cancer and heart disease, but critics warn that the data are too preliminary to draw such conclusions.

Here is the equation for photosynthesis:

carbon dioxide + water (+ light energy) → glucose + oxygen

Because it was winter break, Schulten had the office and computer center all to himself. “I worked there day and night,” Schulten recalls. “Basically I remember that I only stopped working when my hand got cramped from holding the pen, because I had to derive all these quantum mechanical rules that describe the system.”

Publishing this new finding, however, was not straightforward. Other researchers claimed that what Kohler and Hudson saw was a well-known “dirt effect” and not something real. They actually claimed the dirt was in the window of the cuvette and not in the polyenes themselves. Schulten, a rookie in computational biology at that point, summarizes how the paper was likely received by some in the scientific community: “Do you know what foolish thing Karplus did? He wrote a paper on this dirt effect.”But Schulten and Karplus persevered and eventually published their findings. Schulten's understanding of these polyene excitations would later inform his photosynthesis research.

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When diffraction data are generated from a crystal, only two pieces of data can be extracted from the experiment. The third piece of data, missing but necessary for elucidating the structure, is the phase angles of the reflections. One way to solve this is to grow the crystal with heavy metals that are bound to particular places in the protein and through geometrical constructions determine the phase. But the protein Rs. molischianum was so modular that the experimentalists in Michel's group could not co-crystallize with heavy metals successfully. So it fell to Xiche Hu and Klaus Schulten alone to come up with a way to conquer the phase problem.

For Schulten and Hu, two blows would soon befall them as Hu worked diligently on the phase problem. First, they learned that Richard Cogdell and his collaborators succeeded in solving the structure of Rps. acidophila, and would soon publish in Nature. The light-harvesting protein that Hu and Schulten were working on turned out to be the more difficult one to solve. And second, since the allotted months had passed and Hu did not have a structure, the problem reverted back to Hartmut Michel's group. Although this relinquishment was a blow to the scientists in Urbana, Xiche Hu was philosophical about it. “In some sense they had the right to do it,” Hu remarks, “because in principle they didn't need us to solve the structure.”

Biotech stocks fell in response to the news.
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MinION achieved the longest reads of DNA sequences to date.

One of the first things the trio would immediately uncover was how quantum coherence assists light harvesting. In the two light-harvesting proteins, LH1 and LH2, chlorophyll-like molecules (technically called bacteriochlorophylls in purple bacteria) are packed closely together in a ring shape, as seen in the picture of LH2 for example. To transfer the energy harvested by the chlorophylls, the individual chlorophylls team up and transfer the excitation not randomly but in a pool. They share their excitation in a very ordered, or so to speak, “coherent” way; it is as though they are humming one tune together as opposed to each playing unique parts in an orchestra. With quantum coherence, the system of pigments could reach very far and fast to transfer the excitation.

The find is estimated to be at least 177,000 years old.

In the 1940s Arnold and Oppenheimer had wondered why so many chlorophylls were necessary in photosynthesis and exactly how they all worked together. In the late 1990s, Schulten together with Hu, Ritz and Damjanović elucidated the physics underlying the structures of the light-harvesting proteins, namely that the arrangement of a group of tightly-interacting chlorophylls in fact act together to make themselves more efficient through quantum coherence.

Biotech stocks fell in response to the news.

In a similar vein, Ana Damjanović was an undergraduate student in physics at Belgrade University when she met Schulten at a conference in Europe. Impressed by his research, she went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign specifically to get her PhD in Schulten's group. Shortly after her arrival, she would team up with Ritz and begin work on the quantum physics of photosynthesis.

Biology Study Guide- Photosynthesis Flashcards | Quizlet

The light-harvesting pigments are not only made of chlorophyll-like molecules that absorb sunlight. They also consist of carotenoids, which are pigments that also absorb light, usually in the blue range, and are popularly known for their nutritional value in foods such as tomatoes and sweet potatoes. The other main highlight of the collaboration between Damjanović and Ritz was clarification of the role that carotenoids play in light harvesting. Basically they found that the carotenoids have to use tricks in order to transfer the excitation to the chlorophylls.

Photosynthesis Study Guide - Key Concepts

While he was studying for his diploma at the University of Frankfurt in Germany in the early 1990s, Thorsten Ritz heard Klaus Schulten give a seminar there about a possible mechanism for the magnetic compass in birds. Captivated by the talk, since it pointed out one of the ways in which quantum mechanics plays a role in biology, Ritz made sure to talk to Schulten while he was briefly doing research at the Center for Complex Systems Research in Urbana. Ritz decided to do dissertation research with Schulten in Urbana while getting his PhD from the University of Ulm. As Schulten did not have a candidate molecule yet for the avian magnetic compass, Ritz began his studies on photosynthesis instead.

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