What is Quantum Biology

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What is Quantum Biology
What is Quantum Biology

Everything in the universe is made up of elementary particles. Quantum physics is engaged in the study of them and related phenomena - a strange science, where there is a lot of uncertainty. But what if quantum effects extend not only to quantum scales, but to life in general? Quantum biology is looking for an answer to this question.

Quantum biology

Biologists are not very fond of getting involved with physics. As students, they take introductory physics courses and then thank the gods of science that they no longer have to worry about Einstein, Maxwell, and Newton. When it comes to quantum physics, most biologists don't need to think about it at all. They study molecules on such a large scale that they don't need to know anything beyond the basics of quantum mechanics. The familiar molecular model is sufficient to study the interactions between trillions of organic molecules. Physicists, on the other hand, study quantum mechanics in a vacuum at near absolute zero. It is generally accepted that in the heat and disorder that reigns in living cells, quantum effects can, in fact, be ignored.

Meanwhile, some scientists suggest that there are biological phenomena that can be explained by quantum mechanics - and nothing more. In his book What is Life? Erwin Schrödinger postulated that quantum mechanics can have profound effects on cellular functions. He suggested that genetic material can be stored and inherited by storing information in different quantum states. And although later James Watson and Francis Crick found out that DNA is a carrier of genetic information, Schrödinger gave rise to quantum biology.

Quantum tunneling

More recently, thoughtful experiments have provided proof that quantum biology has a profound effect on life. It turned out that enzymes - catalysts of reactions in the cell - use the so-called tunneling effect, or quantum tunneling. With this mechanism, they can move an electron or proton from one part of the molecule to another.

Quantum tunneling provides enzymes with a fast and efficient way to rearrange molecules to support reactions. This process cannot be explained using classical physics. Understanding these reactions requires quantum probabilities and dualities.

The tunnel effect also plays a role in DNA mutations. DNA is a double-stranded molecule whose parts are held together by hydrogen bonds. These connections can be depicted like this (see picture).


White atoms belong to hydrogen. This compound has two hydrogen bonds. It is believed that hydrogen atoms can "jump" to the other side using quantum tunneling. If the DNA strands are separated during the jump of hydrogen to the other side, then these bonds can be copied or reproduced incorrectly. A mutation resulting from hydrogen tunneling has the potential to cause disease.

Quantum coherence

Photosynthesis is one of the most important processes in life. When a photon of light hits the pigment, it is absorbed and an electron is released in its place.The electron then enters the electron transport chain, which accumulates a chemical potential that can be used to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate, or adenosine triphosphate acid). But to get into the electron transport chain, an electron needs to move from one point, from which it is freed by a photon, through chlorophyll, to a point known as a reaction center. There are many ways an electron can reach it.


Using the principles of quantum coherence and quantum entanglement, electrons can move along the most efficient paths without wasting energy in heat. According to quantum coherence, electrons can move in several directions simultaneously due to their wave-like properties. Thus, electrons are able to travel along several different paths simultaneously to reach the reaction center. This phenomenon allows energy to be transferred as efficiently as possible.

Quantum coherence can affect other aspects of life as well. Some scientists speculate that the human retina uses coherence to transmit signals from the eye to the brain. They argue that photoisomerization - a change in the structure of a photon receptor - occurs so quickly that only quantum coherence can provide such a rate. Given this, there may well be many more biochemical pathways in nature that use quantum coherence, and they only do what they wait when they are finally discovered.

Quantum entanglement

Entanglement is one of the most difficult concepts to understand in quantum mechanics. It describes the interaction between two or more quantum particles. While not yet confirmed, it is believed that quantum entanglement may explain magnetoreception. Magnetoreception is the ability of organisms to sense a magnetic field and determine their location on the ground in accordance with it. Birds and animals use this ability to sense the earth's magnetic field and migrate. For a long time, the exact mechanism of this phenomenon has been a mystery. Perhaps the Earth's magnetic field affects the mechanism that uses radical pairs inside the retina, and entanglement within this pair can provide organisms with a quantum signal that works like a compass: this was discussed by Jim Al-Khalili and Jonjo McFadden in their book Life on the Edge. Your first book on quantum biology."


What's next?

Quantum mechanics can affect many biochemical functions. Some believe that the sense of smell - the way we sense smells - may be the result of the quantum vibrations of molecules. At the same time, there are studies indicating that Brownian motion inside the cell is associated with quantum mechanics.

In any case, quantum biology is a young branch of science, but it looks like it has serious potential. It remains only to wait and observe new research in this area.

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