Algae Molecule Masters Quantum Mechanics

The weird world of quantum physics appears to have been mastered by protein molecules, according to a new study. Researchers have demonstrated that certain proteins can manipulate light waves to their advantage. These kinds of observations are a conundrum for evolution, which can’t explain such advanced biological capabilities.

Quantum mechanics represents mankind’s current approximation of the behavior of matter on the atomic and subatomic level. Experiments have shown that light, as well as electrons, can travel along two wave-like paths at the same time and yet arrive at the same place. In quantum-speak, these paths are said to exist in “coherence.”

Scientists have measured the control of light in coherence by a protein that is involved in photosynthesis. Certain proteins with molecular “antennae” are structured to capture and transfer light energy. When combined with a host of nearby―as well as faraway―protein machines, they use this energy to build the chemicals on which all other living things depend.

But remarkably, one particular type of algae is able to perform this function in low lighting. Most other plants shut down photosynthesis for the night, while “cryptophytes” continue to harvest light. According to a paper published in Nature, researchers discovered that the light-harvesting proteins used by the algae are structured differently from those of other plants and that their particular configuration can pick up low-light energy and hold it in coherence. They called these plants “coherently wired.”1

In order for these algae to harvest light in low-light conditions, their method of photosynthesis must be much more efficient than that of other plants. The “coherent” wiring of this protein enables “quantum effects [to] facilitate the efficient light-harvesting by cryptophyte algae.”1 The ingenious configuration that allows this protein to manipulate light adds to the list of similar finds that have been controversial because of their stunningly skillful construction.

How could evolution by selective pressure ever achieve such marvels of engineering? Assuming that some evolutionary ancestor of cryptophytes performed normal “high light” photosynthesis like other plants, it is very speculative to assert that there ever could have been enough selective pressure and fortuitous mutations to have altered this plant’s machinery with such exacting precision—all just to enable it to live in a slightly different environmental niche.

Earlier, a 2006 study showed that quantum tunneling occurs in a protein system. In their study published in Science, the authors wrote, “The question of whether enzymes have evolved to use quantum tunneling to the best advantage has provoked a heated debate.”2 As well it should.

Truly, these tiny algae cells have been constructed with remarkable skill. A University of Toronto press release stated that their light-harvesting strategy “suggests that algae knew about quantum mechanics nearly two billion years before humans.”3

But how could these plants “know” anything, much less acquire such sophisticated biological abilities solely through random natural processes? The most straightforward explanation for their existence is that they were intentionally “coherently wired” by Someone with full knowledge of quantum mechanics.4


  1. Collini, E. et al. 2010. Coherently wired light-harvesting in photosynthetic marine algae at ambient temperature. Nature. 463 (7281): 644-647. 
  2. Masgrau, L. et al. 2006. Atomic Description of an Enzyme Reaction Dominated by Proton Tunneling. Science. 312 (5771): 237-241. 
  3. Bettam, S. Scientists find quantum mechanics at work in photosynthesis. News @ the University of Toronto. Posted on February 3, 2010, accessed February 4, 2010. 
  4. More accurately, this Being must know the very structure and nature of matter at its most fundamental level. And who would better know this than the One who created it—“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers” (Colossians 1:16).

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on February 17, 2010.

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