While quantum physics deals with the study of bizarre behavior or matter on a subatomic level, scientists since the early 1920s have looked at how the quantum mechanics play a role in the living cells, thus introducing Quantum Biology, a relatively new field putting nuclear physicists, biochemists and molecular biologists together to understand the behavior of living cells at a DNA level.
A research paper published early 2021 in the journal, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics suggested that an unusual quantum phenomenon could be causing point mutations in the DNA structures.
Scientists at the University of Surrey’s Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Center used computer simulations and various quantum mechanical methods to study proton tunneling, a purely quantum phenomenon which occurs on the hydrogen bonds linking together the spiraling DNA stands.
Proton tunneling is when a proton from the hydrogen atom vanishes from one spot and reappears elsewhere. This can cause the atoms to occasionally be found on the wrong strand of DNA thus causing point mutations in the genetic code.
Even though these genetic mutations are usually short lived, and the DNA molecules readjust to their real order in a reasonable short amount of time, the scientists believe that some of these mutations could survive the DNA replication process inside the cells and possibly cause health consequences thus increasing the risk of cancer.
In a press release issued by the team of researchers, the lead author of the research Marco Sacchi said that many had long suspected that the quantum world which is weird, counter-intuitive, and wonderful plays a role in life as we know it. While the idea that something can be present in two places at the same time might be absurd to many of us, this happens all the time in the quantum world, and our study confirms that quantum tunneling also happens in DNA at room temperature.”
The scientists believe that quantum biology has a long way to go and there’s a lot more left for scientists to understand when it comes to studying the biological processes at a subatomic level, however, this recent research by the scientists at University of Surrey has proven the point that quantum mechanics are definitely at play on a biological level.
The co-author of the study and co-director of the Leverhulme Quantum Biology Doctoral Training Center, Jim Al Khalili, said that it has been thrilling to work with this group of young, diverse and talented thinkers – made up of a broad coalition of the scientific world. This work cements quantum biology as the most exciting field of scientific research in the 21st century.
Other scientists not involved in the study directly have labeled it as a massive step towards understanding quantum biology however, they believe that a much more improved computing power and methodology will be required to model entire DNA strands.