2017 Ignite Project: Q-SPET

Quantum-controlled Single Protein Electron Transport

Project overview

Q-SPET was awarded the BIST Ignite Grant in March 2018.

It is mindboggling how creatively Nature takes advantage of the principles of deep physics. Principles of quantum design allow sunlight to be channelled smoothly and efficiently through light-harvesting-networks and generate charge-separation. Does quantum coherence play a decisive role for the efficiency of photosynthesis? Can quantum mechanics in life processes be used for global solar energy, new platforms of quantum sensors or even quantum logic?

Here we propose to team up between IBEC and ICFO to explore the light-to-charge conversion of the iconic PhotoSystem-I (PSI), a photoactive electron-transport protein. PSI uses optical excitation energy (sunlight) for charge-separation and electron-transport. The IBEC Gorostiza group expertise is ultrasensitive electrochemical detection of charges generated in proteins. The ICFO vanHulst group specializes on nanoscale quantum control by ultrafast-lasers. Forming a complementary BIST team, we will combine fs-laser control with electro-chemical read out of the photo-induced charge.

We will use the IGNITE support to explore the feasibility, to quantify the photon to electron conversion efficiency and aim to push the sensitivity towards the single protein level. Femtosecond coherent-control of the multi-chromophoric acceptor excited-state will allow exploring a first manipulation of the primary electron donor state to steer the branching of the electron transfer.

Following success of the IGNITE “seeding” stage, we plan a “second” stage to address the single PSI-complex acting as a single quantum system, combining electrochemical scanning tunnelling microscopy (EC-STM) and coherent-controlled fs-laser excitation.

Q-SPET aims for the first time to control a true biological function – charge separation of electron transport – using quantum coherence.


Multidisciplinarity within Q-SPET

IBEC meets ICFO. The Q-SPET project has emerged as a result of the research activities of two BIST laboratories investigating similar biological systems, photosynthetic complexes, while using complementary approaches: photonics and electrochemistry. It is evident that photosystems convert photons into separated charge carriers and generated fuels without telling the difference between research topics. ICFO controlling the input photons and IBEC detecting the output electrons, we are in unique position to trace the photo-electro-chemical activity along the full path. With common interest in the biological system, the joining of forces with such different and powerful methodologies is sure to spark excitement, mutual learning and cross-fertilization between the laboratories.

Project members

Pau Gorostiza

ICREA Research Professor and Group Leader at IBEC

Niek F. van Hulst

ICREA Research Professor and Group Leader at ICFO

Manuel López Ortiz

PhD Student at IBEC

Núria Camarero

Postdoctoral Researcher at IBEC

Vikas Remesh

PhD Student at ICFO

Jana Ockova

PhD Student at ICFO

Institutional Members of the Board of Trustees