Photosynthesis is one of the most fascinating processes in nature. So far, researchers have not been able to fully understand it, most importantly, why is it so efficient? The problem is so deep that a ‘quantum biology’ field is a part of the theoretical basis of a study performed by a team of scientists from University of Michigan, U.S. and Vilnius University, Lithuania. We already know, thanks to researchers from University of Missouri-Columbia, that plants can hear, that is developing a response to vibrations. Apparently vibrations are very important to the core process in plants, as molecular vibration speeds photosynthesis.
Researchers employed short pulses of light to investigate the photosynthesis process in spinach leaves. Plants and bacteria use the process of photosynthesis to transform sunlight, water and carbon dioxide in two, food for them and oxygen for the animals. According to the findings, molecular vibrations support the charge separation. Vibration frees electrons from atoms in the initial stage of the process. Charge separation happens at ultra-high speed, one-hundredth of a billionth of a blink of an eye.
“Both biological and artificial photosynthetic systems take absorbed light and convert it to charge separation. In the case of natural photosynthesis, that charge separation leads to biochemical energy. In artificial systems, we want to take that charge separation and use it to generate electricity or some other useable energy source such as biofuels,” said Jennifer Ogilvie from University of Michigan, lead author of the paper “Vibronic Coherence in Oxygenic Photosynthesis” to be published in the journal Nature Chemistry.
Molecular vibration speeds photosynthesis in spinach leaves
After the scientists put the spinach leaves in a blender, they extracted the proteins responsible for the process from the membrane. They looked at the basic system behind photosynthesis, the photosystem II, which comprises the proteins and pigments most involved in sustaining the whole process. By employing a ‘unique spectroscopic approach’ they mapped how the signals probably travel the leaves. That is how they discovered the vibrational motions enabled the charge separation.
Scientific research often leads to exciting results. Sometimes they seem, at least for the moment, the effort of pure scientific curiosity. This is not the case. The researchers are excited about this specific research because the results will probably have a direct application in the development of solar cells and storage equipment. After the scientists discovered that molecular vibration speeds photosynthesis, they have to find a way to reverse engineer the process in order to design materials with similar proprieties.