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Quantum Mechanical Phenomena in Biology

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posted on Jul, 7 2012 @ 04:03 PM
I've been binge-reading on this deployment and any careful observer can probably track what books based on the side-chatter in my posts.

It's not an entirely new concept, however, while reading through a book titled "Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness" authored by Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner - I came across some interesting tidbits of information (the main topic of the book could inspire a billion page long argument and get nowhere - evidenced by current discussions about it). Basically - that we are finding evidence of quantum phenomena in systems that were once thought outside the realms of quantum mechanics. Of key interest to me was in the world of biology.

Discover Magazine does a good job of summing some things up:

From tunneling to entanglement, the special properties of the quantum realm allow events to unfold at speeds and efficiencies that would be unachievable with classical physics alone. Could quantum mechanisms be driving some of the most elegant and inexplicable processes of life? For years experts doubted it: Quantum phenomena typically reveal themselves only in lab settings, in vacuum chambers chilled to near absolute zero. Biological systems are warm and wet. Most researchers thought the thermal noise of life would drown out any quantum weirdness that might rear its head.

Specifically, the team examined the protein scaffold connecting the bacteria’s external solar collectors, called the chlorosome, to reaction centers deep inside the cells. Unlike electric power lines, which lose as much as 20 percent of energy in transmission, these bacteria transmit energy at a staggering efficiency rate of 95 percent or better.

The secret, Fleming and his colleagues found, is quantum physics.

There's more than just that example - it is argued that smell is a product of not just chemical interaction - but quantum tunneling (probably explains why artificial sweeteners never taste quite right, either - presuming taste to be a similar principle to smell).

Things get even more fun and interesting:

When green light passes into the bird's eye, it hits cryptochrome, which gives an energy boost to one of the electrons of an entangled pair, separating it from its partner. In its new location, the electron experiences a slightly different magnitude of Earth's magnetic field, and this alters the electron's spin. Birds can use this information to build an internal map of Earth's magnetic field to figure out their position and direction.

But scientists realized that some odor molecules that have identical shapes have completely different smells, due to a minute chemical change, such as a single hydrogen atom in the molecule being replaced by a heavier version of hydrogen called deuterium. While this affects the weight of the molecule, it doesn't change its shape, so it still fits into the receptor molecule in exactly the same way.

How, then, can olfactory systems sense the difference? The answer may lie in quantum particles' ability to act like waves.

Now... one has to wonder how in the world that evolved. I don't care if you're a staunch supporter of ID or Evolution... that's quite a jog in the unexpected. Sure - evolution as a concept can explain it... random mutations and all... but a hell of an adventure it would be to probe what stages sensory systems (and their quantum mechanical constituents) have progressed through to reach where they are now.

Google led to this forum:

The discussion here pretty much sums up what the articles have told you about the attitudes of individuals involved (and is to be expected - reading about the history of genetics and the quest to understand DNA was an enlightening experience). However - one individual points to:

Added: Mar 09, 2010 1:14 pm
DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals in the area of quantum effects in a biological environment. Proposed research should establish beyond any doubt that manifestly quantum effects occur in biology, and demonstrate through simulation proof-of concept experiments that devices that exploit these effects could be developed into biomimetic sensors.

I had to keep this ATS, you know.

Of course - the implication is that - if life can take advantage of quantum mechanics at nominal 'room temperatures' .... the idea we could exploit these same phenomena without having to chill vacuum chambers to within a degree of absolute zero.

It could also further a number of medical research initiatives... as the implication is that the reactions in the body are not purely chemical - but also rely on quantum-mechanical aspects that result in behavior outside the realm of classical physics (such as the taste example... if a different reaction can be garnered by a chemically identical substance... then the implication for medicines is dire).

Just a bit of thought-provoking conversation.

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