Coherent phenomena in photosynthetic light harvesting: part two—observations in biological systems

Harry W. Rathbone, Jeffery A. Davis, Katharine A. Michie, Sophia C. Goodchild, Neil O. Robertson, Paul M. G. Curmi

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Considerable debate surrounds the question of whether or not quantum mechanics plays a significant, non-trivial role in photosynthetic light harvesting. Many have proposed that quantum superpositions and/or quantum transport phenomena may be responsible for the efficiency and robustness of energy transport present in biological systems. The critical experimental observations comprise the observation of coherent oscillations or “quantum beats” via femtosecond laser spectroscopy, which have been observed in many different light harvesting systems. Part Two of this review aims to provide an overview of experimental observations of energy transfer in the most studied light harvesting systems. Length scales, derived from crystallographic studies, are combined with energy and time scales of the beats observed via spectroscopy. A consensus is emerging that most long-lived (hundreds of femtoseconds) coherent phenomena are of vibrational or vibronic origin, where the latter may result in coherent excitation transport within a protein complex. In contrast, energy transport between proteins is likely to be incoherent in nature. The question of whether evolution has selected for these non-trivial quantum phenomena may be an unanswerable question, as dense packings of chromophores will lead to strong coupling and hence non-trivial quantum phenomena. As such, one cannot discern whether evolution has optimised light harvesting systems for high chromophore density or for the ensuing quantum effects as these are inextricably linked and cannot be switched off.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1443-1463
    Number of pages21
    JournalBiophysical Reviews
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


    • Light harvesting
    • Photosynthesis
    • Protein
    • Quantum biology
    • Quantum coherence


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