June 17, 2007

Of Lightning, Photosynthesis and Electron Transport Chain

flowers with leavesWe all know that plants use solar energy to form chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates. The suns rays (photons) impinge on the chlorophyll of the green leaves. This excites them and raises them to a higher energy level. These electrons in turn, transfer their energies to another electron nearby and this process goes on till the energy is transferred to the reaction center, where actual conversion of energy is occurring. This energy transfer occurs at a phenomenal efficiency of about 95%. In order to achieve such unprecedented (compared to about 40% in the most efficient solar cells) efficiency, the electrons should 'change hands' in an efficient way and not merely by a random walk.

The electrons do this by 'sensing' and sorting of the energy levels of different electrons (without ever actually having to go to these places for sensing: what Einstein called spooky action at a distance). How the electrons found the right path so as to reach the destination (to electrons with a lower energy level) quickly and efficiently remained elusive. Now scientists perhaps know the reason. These electrons do some kind of quantum computing to arrive at their destinations with unprecedented efficiency.

This premonition of 'unsorted databases' is characteristic of the quantum computing algorithm. Like gamma synchrony, regular patterns of signals lasting several femtoseconds were found, when the chlorophyll molecules were mapped by using electronic spectroscopy. As in dendritic networks, these 'quantum beats' 'bind' (synchronize) all the energy levels of electrons together. Thus these quantum beats help electrons find out the 'path of least resistance' in such an astonishing efficiency. It is as if the energy status of the electrons were indexed as in a computer search algorithm, so that they could be found out faster.

A similar mechanism may be involved in our mitochondria where electron transport chain occurs. Electrons are transported in the mitochondria along a series of electron acceptors to end up ultimately in cytochrome c, where they combine with oxygen, the ultimate electron acceptor, to form water. This chain is very important as it generates ATP, our own energy currency. Quantum entanglement may explain the subject in a new light.

Just a thought in passing, it is said that lightning follows the path of least resistance. I always wondered how it would know where to advance to next, since it had no prior information about what lied ahead. Now, this quantum computational algorithm may be the suitable one to address this issue.
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