The origin of spontaneous quantum bumps has been examined in the ultraviolet photoreceptors of Limulus median eye. These cells have a rhodopsin with a lambda max at 360 nm and a stable photoproduct, metarhodopsin, with a lambda max at 470 nm. The steady state rate of spontaneous quantum bumps was found to be higher when the metarhodopsin concentration was high than when the rhodopsin concentration was high. This result implicates metarhodopsin in the generation of spontaneous quantum bumps. Furthermore, this result is consistent with the idea that the reaction which inactivates metarhodopsin (terminates the ability of metarhodopsin to initiate the reactions leading to a quantum bump) is reversible and that such reversions can be a significant source of spontaneous quantum bumps. Given that the rate of spontaneous quantum bumps is approximately 1/s under conditions where the number of inactive metarhodopsin molecules is approximately 10(9), it follows that the molecular switch that inactivates metarhodopsin reverses with a probability of less than 10(-9). A model is presented of how a molecular switch with this reliability might be constructed.

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