Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Photosynthesis is incoherent

Beginning in 2007 luxury journals published some experimental papers making claims that quantum coherence was essential to photosynthesis. This was followed by a lot of theoretical papers claiming support. I was skeptical about these claims and in the first few years of this blog wrote several posts highlighting problems with the experiments, theory, interpretation, and hype.

Here is a recent paper that repeats one of the first experiments.

Nature does not rely on long-lived electronic quantum coherence for photosynthetic energy transfer Hong-Guang Duan, Valentyn I. Prokhorenko, Richard Cogdell, Khuram Ashraf, Amy L. Stevens, Michael Thorwart, R. J. Dwayne Miller
During the first steps of photosynthesis, the energy of impinging solar photons is transformed into electronic excitation energy of the light-harvesting biomolecular complexes. The subsequent energy transfer to the reaction center is understood in terms of exciton quasiparticles which move on a grid of biomolecular sites on typical time scales less than 100 femtoseconds (fs). Since the early days of quantum mechanics, this energy transfer is described as an incoherent Forster hopping with classical site occupation probabilities, but with quantum mechanically determined rate constants. This orthodox picture has been challenged by ultrafast optical spectroscopy experiments with the Fenna-Matthews-Olson protein in which interference oscillatory signals up to 1.5 picoseconds were reported and interpreted as direct evidence of exceptionally long-lived electronic quantum coherence. Here, we show that the optical 2D photon echo spectra of this complex at ambient temperature in aqueous solution do not provide evidence of any long-lived electronic quantum coherence, but confirm the orthodox view of rapidly decaying electronic quantum coherence on a time scale of 60 fs. Our results give no hint that electronic quantum coherence plays any biofunctional role in real photoactive biomolecular complexes. Since this natural energy transfer complex is rather small and has a structurally well defined protein with the distances between bacteriochlorophylls being comparable to other light-harvesting complexes, we anticipate that this finding is general and directly applies to even larger photoactive biomolecular complexes.
I do not find the 60 fsec timescale surprising. In 2008, Joel Gilmore and I published a review of experiment and theory on a wide range of biomolecules (in a warm wet environment) that suggested that tens of femtoseconds is the relevant time scale for decoherence.

I found the following section of the paper (page 7) interesting and troubling.
The results shown in Figs. 3 (a) and (b) prove that any electronic coherence vanishes within a dephasing time window of 60 fs. It is important to emphasize that the dephasing time determined like this is consistent with the dephasing time of Ď„hom = 60 fs independently derived from the experiment (see above). It is important to realize that this cross-check constitutes the simplest and most direct test for the electronic dephasing time in 2D spectra. In fact, the only unique observable in 2D pho- ton echo spectroscopy is the homogeneous lineshape. The use of rephasing processes in echo spectroscopies removes the inhomogeneous broadening and this can be directly inferred by the projection of the spectrum on the antidiagonal that shows the correlation between the excitation and probe fields. This check of self-consistency has not been made earlier and is in complete contradiction to the assertion made in earlier works. Moreover, our direct observation of the homogeneous line width is in agreement with independent FMO data of Ref. 12. This study finds an ∼ 100 cm−1 homogeneous line width estimated from the low-temperature data taken at 77 K, which corresponds to an electronic coherence time of ∼ 110 fs, in line with our result given the difference in temperature. In fact, if any long lived electronic coherences were operating on the 1 ps timescale as claimed previously (1), the antidiagonal line width would have to be on the order of 10 cm−1, and would appear as an extremely sharp ridge in the 2D inhomogeneously broadened spectrum (see Supplementary Materials). The lack of this feature conspicuously points to the misassignment of the long lived features to long lived electronic coherences where as now established in the present work is due to weak vibrational coherences. The frequencies of these oscillations, their lifetimes, and amplitudes all match those expected for molecular modes (41, 42) and not long-lived electronic coherences.

1 comment:

  1. Highlights in photosynthesis research.
    The list of Nobel prizes in photosynthesis is below.

    Background and details of Nobel prize in 1988 given below. the last few lines are interesting posers.

    "Not least important is the fact that the reaction centre structure is an indispensable tool in the attempts of theoretical chemists to understand how electron transfer in biological systems can occur with very high velocities (even in one billionth [U.S., trillionth] of a second) across large distances (more than ten intervening atoms) on the molecular scale"

    The last few lines of one billionth secs across distances is truly a great challenge for seamless science.