A quantum protective mechanism in photosynthesis

A. Marais, I. Sinayskiy, F. Petruccione, R. van Grondelle

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Since the emergence of oxygenic photosynthesis, living systems have developed protective mechanisms against reactive oxygen species. During charge separation in photosynthetic reaction centres, triplet states can react with molecular oxygen generating destructive singlet oxygen. The triplet product yield in bacteria is observed to be reduced by weak magnetic fields. Reaction centres from plants' photosystem II share many features with bacterial reaction centres, including a high-spin iron whose function has remained obscure. To explain observations that the magnetic field effect is reduced by the iron, we propose that its fast-relaxing spin plays a protective role in photosynthesis by generating an effective magnetic field. We consider a simple model of the system, derive an analytical expression for the effective magnetic field and analyse the resulting triplet yield reduction. The protective mechanism is robust for realistic parameter ranges, constituting a clear example of a quantum effect playing a macroscopic role vital for life.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8720
Pages (from-to)8720
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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