The Physics of Life Group in the UK explains the emergence of Quantum biology: “Quantum biology is an interdisciplinary field investigating non-trivial quantum effects, such as long lived quantum coherence, that play a role, at the molecular level, within living cells. The field has emerged in recent years as a result of a number of surprising experimental discoveries, such as quantum coherence in photosynthesis, quantum tunnelling in enzyme action and olfaction, possible quantum entanglement in avian navigation and several other areas” (http://www.physicsoflife.org.uk/quantum-biology.html).
What clinches its importance is the establishment of the world’s first training Centre for Quantum Biology at the University of Surrey with £1m support from the Leverhulme Trust. “The Centre, which will be headed by Professors Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili, will train a new generation of scientists with the skills needed to study and even exploit the quantum underpinnings of life from efficient energy transport in photosynthesis to the quantum-guided navigational skills of Christmas robins. Up to seven PhD students will be recruited each year for the next three years who will engage in a three-year interdisciplinary training and research programme. Students will work on projects from photosynthesis to nanotechnology”. Professor JohnJoe McFadden, Director of the Centre for Quantum Biology at the University of Surrey, said: “Quantum biology may also provide insights into how our brain works and even what our thoughts are made of, or provide a new understanding of the fundamental difference between living and non-living matter. But research is currently scattered and lacks dedicated scientists and established research foci, because of untrained personnel who could probe coherently both the biology and physics of living matter. This new interdisciplinary science requires expertise from many fields, from biology and biochemistry to physics, mathematics and computer science, yet most biologists know nothing about quantum mechanics and physicists generally shun the messy and highly complex world of living organisms. To progress, quantum biology needs a new generation of scientists who can operate across the discipline boundaries, which is what we hope to achieve within our new Centre.”
Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Co-Director of the Centre for Quantum Biology at the University of Surrey, said: “A novel aspect of the Centre is that it will also exploit cutting-edge technologies, such as nanotechnology or synthetic biology to study quantum biology. For example, studying quantum mechanics of photosynthesis is difficult inside living cells or even in test tubes so members of the team will attach chlorophyll molecules to carbon nanotubes so that the systems for energy capture can be studied more effectively. Another example is bird navigation where it has been shown that the European robin appears to use quantum entanglement – the ability of distant particles to retain ‘spooky’ connections – to navigate around the globe. But the robin is not an easy experimental model so scientists involved in the Centre will be using synthetic biology tools to move the bird’s compass into the much more tractable fruit fly, which has been the favourite animal of geneticists for more than a century. Once in the fruit fly, the genes involved in the compass can be manipulated to discover how the system works.”
Sheer diversity of research
The diversity of such a new discipline is just staggering. The Florida Institute of Technology says that “Our group and collaborators are pioneering what appears to be a fundamentally important domain of QB: namely, the role and control of electron spin in the biological production of ROS. This “spin biochemistry” is the study of radical pair dynamics that impact ROS partitioning into different chemical species at their points of formation. At the heart of this QB problem lies the quantum mechanical phenomenon of singlet-triplet mixing, which is a type of superposition (coherence) of quantum states. Understanding the fundamental quantum properties that regulate ROS production promises to open new approaches to control ROS-related signaling mechanisms.
A major challenge in QB has been the difficulty of making direct, rigorously controlled measurements of quantum processes in biological environments. The development of new experimental techniques to probe quantum phenomena in cell biology, that accurately reflect in vivo situations, represents a transformational breakthrough. Thus, our approach to QB will reveal quantum signatures in ROS production, resulting from the bioenergetics of normal cellular metabolism and link signatures to outcomes. Indeed, bioenergetics and the formation of ROS are inextricably connected, contributing to various ROS signaling pathways and gene regulation. A significant achievement in redox cell biology would be to understand the basic fundamental mechanisms of ROS signaling. Demonstration of quantum signatures in the formation of ROS and subsequent activation of specific transcriptional signaling pathways that lead to altered growth profiles could have enormous fundamental impacts on a number of agricultural and biotechnology research areas”. (http://research3.fit.edu/quantum-bio/quantum-biology.php). This work will also revolutionize the manner in which enzyme biochemistry is currently studied leading to a filed known as Enzyme tunneling.
Ron Naaman, holds the Aryeh and Mintzi Katzman Chair in Chemical Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science and David Waldeck, a professor of chemistry and Director of the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, have written a research paper on spin in Quantum Biology. (http://inference-review.com/article/spin-in-quantum-biology).
3 of nature’s greatest mysteries
A recent article (September 3, 2017) by Philip Berry describes three of nature’s greatest mysteries that may be solved with the help of Quantum Biology. This exciting field is helping us to understand bird migration, photosynthesis, and maybe even our sense of smell. (http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/3-of-natures-greatest-mysteries-may-be-solved-thanks-to-quantum-biology)
Experiment demonstrates quantum mechanical effects from biological systems
Amanda Morris, Northwestern University (December 5, 2017), writes of experiments by Prem Kumar, professor of electrical engineering and computer science in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and of physics and astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He asks: “Can we apply quantum tools to learn about biology? People have asked this question for many, many years—dating back to the dawn of quantum mechanics. The reason we are interested in these new quantum states is because they allow applications that are otherwise impossible.” Partially supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research was published Dec. 5 in Nature Communications. “Researchers have been trying to entangle a larger and larger set of atoms or photons to develop substrates on which to design and build a quantum machine,” Kumar said. “My laboratory is asking if we can build these machines on a biological substrate.” In the study, Kumar’s team used green fluorescent proteins, which are responsible for bioluminescence and commonly used in biomedical research. The team attempted to entangle the photons generated from the fluorescing molecules within the algae’s barrel-shaped protein structure by exposing them to spontaneous four-wave mixing, a process in which multiple wavelengths interact with one another to produce new wavelengths.
Through a series of these experiments, Kumar and his team successfully demonstrated a type of entanglement, called polarization entanglement, between photon pairs. The same feature used to make glasses for viewing 3D movies, polarization is the orientation of oscillations in light waves. A wave can oscillate vertically, horizontally, or at different angles. In Kumar’s entangled pairs, the photons’ polarizations are entangled, meaning that the oscillation directions of light waves are linked. “When I measured the vertical polarization of one particle, we knew it would be the same in the other. If we measured the horizontal polarization of one particle, we could predict the horizontal polarization in the other particle. We created an entangled state that correlated in all possibilities simultaneously.” (https://phys.org/news/2017-12-quantum-mechanical-effects-biological.html)
Physicists and quantum biology
Many physicists are engaged in work on quantum biology. Adriana Marias, a theoretical physicist, says that, “The most well-established area in quantum biology is the study of photosynthesis. There exists a body of evidence that the primary photosynthetic processes of energy and charge transfer exhibit quantum mechanical properties essential for function and that cannot be described by classical physics” (http://www.adrianamarais.org/research). The University of Crete, places Quantum physics and Quantum biology together as it engages in research on a range of areas (http://www.quantumbiology.gr/). For a look at research in the European Union, take a look at http://www.quantumbiology.eu/research-groups.html.
To better understand cancer, The Quantum Biology Institute has “recently used advanced methods in Quantum Physics, Topology, Differential and Algebraic Geometric, Modular and fractal geometry to unravel peculiar aspects of Cancer, which for decades, have stumped Biologists. As a result, we made significant breakthroughs in Cancer genesis, and in tumors formation. These findings are opening up novel means and platforms to develop new cures and to eradicate Cancers. Research conducted at the Institute, using Quantum Biology probes, concludes that Cancer is first and foremost a Quantum Disease. Research conducted at the Institute investigate the feasibility to experimentally test predictions from our findings in atom smashers and in plasma laboratories. Protocols for experiments are being investigated. We are currently looking to expand this work by collaborating with other laboratories–FERMILAB, SLAC, CERN, BROOKHAVEN, The Princeton Plasma Laboratory”, (https://www.quantumbiologyinstitute.org/). The Institute has many other research interests.
An active Quantum Biology group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/quantum_biology/) works on various aspects such as Organization of energy transfer networks in photosynthesis, Photosynthetic Unit of Purple Bacteria, Bacteriorhodopsin,
Magneto reception in animals. In fact, computing facilities at Rensselaer’s Scientific Computation Research Center (SCOREC) and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and along with IBM and New York State are developing one of the state-of-the-art facility to create one of the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputing centers.
The following references are publications in Quantum Biology and provides a ready reckoner for students who wish to know more on the subject matter:
- Brookes, J. C. (2017). “Quantum effects in biology: golden rule in enzymes, olfaction, photosynthesis and magnetodetection”. Proceedings of the Royal Society A. 473(2201): 20160822. doi:1098/rspa.2016.0822.
- Joaquim, Leyla; Freira, Olival; El-Hani, Charbel (September 2015). “Quantum Explorers: Bohr, Jordan, and Delbruck Venturing into Biology”. Physics in Perspective. 17(3): 236–250. doi:1007/s00016-015-0167-7.
- Lowdin, P.O. (1965) Quantum genetics and the aperiodic solid. Some aspects on the Biological problems of heredity, mutations, aging and tumours in view of the quantum theory of the DNA molecule. Advances in Quantum Chemistry. Volume 2. pp. 213-360. Academic Press
- Dostál, Jakub; Mančal, Tomáš; Augulis, Ramūnas; Vácha, František; Pšenčík, Jakub; Zigmantas, Donatas (2012-07-18). “Two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy reveals ultrafast energy diffusion in chlorosomes”. Journal of the American Chemical Society. 134(28): 11611–11617. doi:1021/ja3025627.
- Engel GS, Calhoun TR, Read EL, Ahn TK, Mancal T, Cheng YC, et al. (2007). “Evidence for wavelike energy transfer through quantum coherence in photosynthetic systems”. Nature. 446(7137): 782–6. doi:1038/nature05678.
- Panitchayangkoon, G.; Hayes, D.; Fransted, K. A.; Caram, J. R.; Harel, E.; Wen,J. Z.; Blankenship, R. E.; Engel, G. S. (2010). “Long-lived quantum coherence in photosynthetic complexes at physiological temperature”. P. Nat. Acad. Sci. 107: 12766–12770. doi:1073/pnas.1005484107.
- Tempelaar; T. L. C. Jansen; J. Knoester (2014). “Vibrational Beatings Conceal Evidence of Electronic Coherence in the FMO Light-Harvesting Complex”. J. Phys. Chem. B. 118: 12865–12872. doi:10.1021/jp510074q.
- Christenson; H. F. Kauffmann; T. Pullerits; T. Mancal (2012). “Origin of Long-Lived Coherences in Light-Harvesting Complexes”. J. Phys. Chem. B. 116: 7449–7454. doi:10.1021/jp304649c.
- Thyrhaug; K. Zidek; J. Dostal; D. Bina; D. Zigmantas (2016). “Exciton Structure and Energy Transfer in the Fenna−Matthews− Olson Complex”. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 7: 1653–1660. doi:10.1021/acs.jpclett.6b00534.
- G. Dijkstra; Y. Tanimura (2012). “The role of the environment time scale in light-harvesting efficiency and coherent oscillations”. New J. Phys. 14: 073027. doi:10.1088/1367-2630/14/7/073027.
- M. Monahan; L. Whaley-Mayda; A. Ishizaki; G. R. Fleming (2015). “Influence of weak vibrational-electronic couplings on 2D electronic spectra and inter-site coherence in weakly coupled photosynthetic complexes”. J. Chem. Phys. 143: 065101. doi:10.1063/1.4928068.
- Mohseni, Masoud; Rebentrost, Patrick; Lloyd, Seth; Aspuru-Guzik, Alán (2008-11-07). “Environment-assisted quantum walks in photosynthetic energy transfer”. The Journal of Chemical Physics. 129(17): 174106. doi:1063/1.3002335.
- Plenio, M B; Huelga, S F (2008-11-01). “Dephasing-assisted transport: quantum networks and biomolecules – IOPscience”. New Journal of Physics. 10: 113019. doi:1088/1367-2630/10/11/113019.
- Lee, Hohjai (2009). “Quantum coherence accelerating photosynthetic energy transfer”. Chemical Physics. doi:1007/978-3-540-95946-5_197.
- Walschaers, Mattia; Fernandez-de-Cossio Diaz, Jorge; Mulet, Roberto; Buchleitner, Andreas (2013-10-29). “Optimally Designed Quantum Transport across Disordered Networks”. Physical Review Letters. 111(18): 180601. doi:1103/PhysRevLett.111.180601.
- Halpin, A.; Johnson, P.J.M.; Tempelaar, R.; Murphy, R.S.; Knoester, J.; Jansen, T.L.C.; Miller, R.J.D. (2014). “Two-Dimensional Spectroscopy of a Molecular Dimer Unveils the Effects of Vibronic Coupling on Exciton Coherences”. Nature Chemistry. 6: 196–201. doi:1038/nchem.1834.
- Johnson, P. J. M.; Farag, M. H.; Halpin, A.; Morizumi, T.; Prokhorenko, V. I.; Knoester, J.; Jansen, T. L. C.; Ernst, O. P.; Miller, R. J. D. (2017). “The Primary Photochemistry of Vision Occurs at the Molecular Speed Limit”. J. Phys. Chem. B. 121: 4040–4047. doi:1021/acs.jpcb.7b02329.
- Schoenlein, R. W.; Peteanu, L. A.; Mathies, R. A.; Shank, C. V. (1991-10-18). “The first step in vision: femtosecond isomerization of rhodopsin”. Science. 254(5030): 412–415. doi:1126/science.1925597.
- Gray, Harry B.; Winkler, Jay R. (2003-08-01). “Electron tunneling through proteins”. Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics. 36(03): 341–372. doi:1017/S0033583503003913.
- Nagel, Zachary D.; Klinman, Judith P. (2006-08-01). “Tunneling and Dynamics in Enzymatic Hydride Transfer”. Chemical Reviews. 106(8): 3095–3118. doi:1021/cr050301x.
- Lambert, Neill; Chen, Yueh-Nan; Cheng, Yuan-Chung; Li, Che-Ming; Chen, Guang-Yin; Nori, Franco (2013-01-01). “Quantum biology”. Nature Physics. 9(1): 10–18. doi:1038/nphys2474.
- Hore, P. J.; Mouritsen, Henrik (5 July 2016). “The Radical-Pair Mechanism of Magnetoreception”. Annual Review of Biophysics. 45(1): 299–344. doi:1146/annurev-biophys-032116-094545.
- “A Biomagnetic Sensory Mechanism Based on Magnetic Field Modulated Coherent Electron Spin Motion: Zeitschrift für Physikalische Chemie”. www.degruyter.com. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
- Kominis, I.K. (2015). “The radical-pair mechanism as a paradigm for the emerging science of quantum biology”. Mod. Phys. Lett. B. 29: 1530013. doi:1142/S0217984915300136.
- , Rodgers, Christopher (2009-01-01). “Magnetic field effects in chemical systems”. Pure and Applied Chemistry. 81(1). doi:10.1351/PAC-CON-08-10-18.
- Steiner, Ulrich E.; Ulrich, Thomas (1989-01-01). “Magnetic field effects in chemical kinetics and related phenomena”. Chemical Reviews. 89(1): 51–147. doi:1021/cr00091a003.
- Woodward, J. R. (2002-09-01). “RADICAL PAIRS IN SOLUTION”. Progress in Reaction Kinetics and Mechanism. 27(3): 165–207. doi:3184/007967402103165388.
- Wiltschko, Roswitha; Ahmad, Margaret; Nießner, Christine; Gehring, Dennis; Wiltschko, Wolfgang (2016-05-01). “Light-dependent magnetoreception in birds: the crucial step occurs in the dark”. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface. 13(118): 20151010. doi:1098/rsif.2015.1010.
- Turin L (June 2002). “A method for the calculation of odor character from molecular structure”. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 216(3): 367–85. doi:1006/jtbi.2001.2504.
- Levine, Raphael D. (2005). Molecular Reaction Dynamics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 16–18.
- Harald Krug; Harald Brune; Gunter Schmid; Ulrich Simon; Viola Vogel; Daniel Wyrwa; Holger Ernst; Armin Grunwald; Werner Grunwald; Heinrich Hofmann (2006). Nanotechnology: Assessment and Perspectives. Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg GmbH & Co. K. pp. 197–240.