Quantum biology – the ‘weird physics’ within?

Could quantum mechanics, the branch of physics which covers phenomenon like being in two places at once, be more commonplace than we think – even playing a pivotal role in nature?

That’s the thinking behind quantum biology, which is being described as a “tentative, even speculative discipline”, but also one that could have wide-ranging implications.

Some scientists now feel that behaviour such as disappearing in one place and reappearing in another (known as tunnelling), previously the domain of physics, could actually be fairly widespread in biology.It’s a fascinating field, and could help answer questions that have long perplexed scientists, such as how birds are able to perform navigational feats of flying like travelling from pole to pole.

An interesting feature on the BBC’s website names photosynthesis – the process by which plants and some bacteria turn sunlight into energy to build the molecules they need – as one example of quantum biology.

As the feature says, photosynthesis “seems to use what is called ‘superposition’ – being seemingly in more than one place at one time.

“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.”

According to the piece, quantum biology might “spark revolutions in the development of new drugs, computers and perfumes – or even help in the fight against cancer”.

I thoroughly recommend reading the feature for a good overview of the interesting developments in what is shaping up to be an exciting and potentially revolutionary field.

© Melanie Hall 2017