Project Details


Quantum effects are fundamental to biology, from the process of chemical bond formation between atoms to the coherent excitations of biomolecules. This research advances the aims of Priority areas 3 (Optimized information transfer, security) and 7 (Synthetic biology) of the Army Modernization Strategy document of 2019.

Quantum effects within biological systems is an area that has gained recent interest. Here we propose the analysis of two fundamental quantum-coherent biological processes , chemical bonding and the measurement of membrane potentials, using advanced methods of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). To do this we will use entirely new methods - quantitative analysis of bond-sensitive Bragg reflections by the new method of MicroEd, and electron holography. Electron holography is a field in which Arizona State University Physics has long history of development and successful applications. The MicroED method was pioneered by one of the PIs on this proposal. Our studies will be devoted to the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) photosynthetic trimer complex (120 kDa), which has formed the basis of many studies on quantum coherence in quantum biology. This complex appears in green sulfur bacteria, mediating the excitation energy transfer from the light-harvesting chromophores to the bacterial reaction center (RC) in the membrane. Our comprehensive and integrated approach towards studying this system will involve high-resolution electron crystallographic experiments on the FMO protein to examine bonding within the system, single-particle cryo-EM on the FMO-RC complex to study the detailed interactions of FMO with the RC, and cryo-electron holography measurements of the membrane potential for the membrane incorporated complexes. Through the use of these complementary cryo-EM modalities new understanding for how the quantum energy transfer process occurs in these complexes and photosynthesis with high quantum coherence is accomplished.

This work will advance efforts in the development of biological systems for quantum computing applications, as has been suggested for the FMO complex in recent reviews . We also plan the first detailed mapping of the chemical bonds in FMO, which are fundamentally quantum in nature. Additionally, our understanding of how photosynthesis occurs within the FMO-RC system will be greatly improved. This will help to advance the design and engineering of novel photosynthetic systems, both natural and artificial, with enhanced performance over current energy conversion systems. Furthermore, the successful application and integration of these cutting-edge cryo-EM methods to the study of quantum effects within the FMO complex would represent a new suite of techniques which would be extended to many other systems and would become a critical tool in the photosynthetic research and the emerging field of quantum biology.
Effective start/end date9/1/208/31/22


  • DOD-ARMY-ARL: Army Research Office (ARO): $1,170,000.00


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