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Quantum Biology: Do Weird Physics Effects Abound in Nature?

The field of physics known as quantum mechanics is difficult for me to grasp sometimes, but I enjoy pondering the mind-boggling concepts. Being a biology major, I never thought quantum mechanics and biology would overlap. However, scientists are beginning to think that quantum mechanics doesn’t need to be limited to studying extreme conditions on isolated particles. Scientists believe that three concepts of quantum mechanics (superposition, entanglement, and tunnelling) are applicable to biology. According to one scientist, “These three things… have dispelled the idea that quantum mechanics had nothing to say about biology.” Hence, the field of Quantum Biology was born. I’ll break down the article into the three concepts. I also linked each concept to a youtube video that might help with clarification:

1. Superposition: “A particle exists in a number of possible states or locations simultaneously.” Biology example: Photosynthesis: “Watch the process closely enough and it appears there are little packets of energy simultaneously ‘trying’ all of the possible paths to get where they need to go, and then settling on the most efficient.”

2. Entanglement: “Two particles can become entangled so that their properties depend on each other – no matter how far apart they get.” Biology example: European robin migration: “European robins only oriented themselves for migration under certain colors of light, and that very weak radio waves could completely mix up their sense of direction. Neither should affect the standard compass that biologists once believed birds had within their cells.” – similar to a “heads-up display” for pilots.

3. Tunnelling: “A particle can break through an energy barrier, seeming to disappear on one side of it and reappear on the other.” Biology example: Sense of smell: “The idea holds that electrons in the receptors in our noses disappear on one side of a smell molecule and reappear on the other, leaving a little bit of energy behind in the process.”

Quantum biology is a very new idea and many ideas about it are hypothetical, but it is gaining support. Aside from possibly helping a celebrity launch a revolutionary new scent, quantum biology/mechanics is believed to be an avenue for cancer research: “If quantum tunnelling is an important mechanism in mutations, is quantum mechanics going to somehow answer some of the questions about how a cell becomes cancerous?” I don’t know enough about this topic to add much commentary. I just like pondering some of these questions about the possibilities and unknowns of biology. I think the article does a good job explaining the concept of quantum biology. There is also a side blurb (The Weird World of Quantum Mechanics) in the article that gives the definitions of the three concepts. I found it helpful to refer to it while I was reading. I hope you enjoy pondering about quantum biology over the weekend!

European Robin. Wiki Commons: Aka

European Robin. Wiki Commons: Aka

 

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