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Enzymes use quantum tunnelling?

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From Aeon:

These are the workhorses of the living world, speeding up chemical reactions so that processes that would otherwise take thousands of years happen inside living cells in seconds. How they achieve this speed-up – often more than a trillion-fold – has long been an enigma. But now, research by Judith Klinman at the University of California, Berkeley and Nigel Scrutton at the University of Manchester (among others) has shown that enzymes can employ a weird quantum trick called tunnelling. Simply put, the enzyme encourages a process whereby electrons and protons vanish from one position in a biochemical and instantly rematerialise in another, without visiting any of the in-between places – a kind of teleportation.

This is pretty fundamental stuff. Enzymes made every single biomolecule in every cell of every living creature on the planet. They are, more than any other component (even DNA, given that some cells get by without it) the essential ingredient of life. And they dip into the quantum world to help keep us alive.

Photosynthesis uses quantum coherence:

When the team shone the laser at the system, they observed a very peculiar light echo that came in beat-like waves. These ‘quantum beats’ were a sign that, instead of taking a single route through the system, the photon energy was using quantum coherence to travel by all possible routes simultaneously. Imagine if, when confronted by the stream, the famous cat somehow divided itself into lots of identical quantum-coherent cats that hop across the chlorophyll boulders by every available route to find the quickest one. Quantum beats have now been detected in many different photosystems, including those of regular plants such as spinach. It appears that the most important reaction in the biosphere is exploiting the quantum world to put our food on our table.

If so, it makes sense. The quantum world exists, whether anything uses it or not, but in nature everything tends to get used.

The author, Johnjoe McFadden and physicist Jim Al-Khalili hope to apply quantum mechanics to evolution by adaptive mutation, “ which appears to occur more frequently when it provides an advantage.” Mmmm. Wasn’t Darwin supposed to have explained that? Oh wait …

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

11 Replies to “Enzymes use quantum tunnelling?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Jim Al-Khalili also referenced WHAT IS LIFE? by ERWIN SCHRODINGER

    here it is,,

    WHAT IS LIFE? ERWIN SCHRODINGER – First published 1944 Pg. 28-29
    Excrpt: “The orderliness encountered in the unfolding of life springs from a different source. It appears that there are two different ‘mechanisms’ by which orderly events can be produced: the ‘statistical mechanism’ which produces order from disorder and the new one, producing order from order. To the unprejudiced mind the second principle appears to be much simpler, much more plausible. No (a) doubt it is. That is why physicists were so proud to have fallen in with the other one, the ‘order-from-disorder’ principle, which is actually followed in Nature and which alone conveys an understand ing of the great line of natural events , in the first place of their irreversibility . But we cannot expect that the ‘laws of physics’ derived from it suffice straight away to explain the behaviour of living matter, whose most striking features are visibly based to a large extent on the ‘order-from-order’ principle. You would not expect two entirely different mechanisms to bring about the same type of law-you would not expect your latch-key, to open your neighbour’s door as well. We must therefore not be discouraged by the difficulty of interpreting life by the ordinary laws of physics. For that is just what is to be expected from the knowledge we have gained of the structure of living matter. We must be prepared to find a new type of physical law prevailing in it. Or are we to term it a non-physical, not to say a super-physical, law?
    No. I do not think that. For the new principle that is involved is a genuinely physical one: it is, in my opinion, nothing else than the principle of quantum theory over again.,,,”

  2. 2
    ciphertext says:

    I’ve only skimmed the article, but I don’t see the significance of the discovery. Would we expect biology (chemistry really) to be be exempt from the world of QM?

  3. 3
    Me_Think says:

    ciphertext @2,

    Would we expect biology (chemistry really) to be be exempt from the world of QM?

    Darwinist would, but again they will spin it as if that’s no big deal and Darwin’s Evolution theory predicts it.

  4. 4

    That was a useful summary to help us stay current in major physics related developments. Thanks.

    For myself and the ID theory I develop the significance is that this tunneling is at the interface between 3 levels of biological intelligence and where consciousness is expected to come from, the Behavior Of Matter, which does not need to be intelligent to be conscious, it more or less already is via reciprocal cause with all that is intelligent that exists in the whole the universe.

    I would expect academic scientists to apply all new quantum related knowledge to Darwinian theory. It’s best for ID that they at least try. Where they succeed all then get to see how much closer to answers to our big questions we got by talking about natural selection all over again. The explanation will very likely be a big yawn in comparison what happens when these discoveries are scientifically applied to ID theory, which was properly premised to follow this evidence wherever it leads towards explaining how our Creator/creator works.

    After making progress through what was thought to be religious domain it’s no longer qualifiable as “supernatural” it becomes “natural”. Arguing over which it is is therefore scientifically irrelevant. It’s possible to say that it’s both at the same time. So everyone was right, and can stop arguing about that now.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Gary S. Gaulin, consciousness is not co-terminous with matter

    A Short History Of Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness
    Excerpt: 1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect):

  6. 6
    ppolish says:

    Yes, Ciphertwxt, Darwinism is exempt from the effects of QM. Darwin hypothesized in an era of Victorian Era physics.

    His blood letting doctor is also exempt from malpractice. I think it was his barber really.

  7. 7
    ppolish says:

    “These are the workhorses of the living world, speeding up chemical reactions so that processes that would otherwise take thousands of years happen inside living cells in seconds.”

    Enzymes can do in seconds what would normally take a thousand years? That sure sounds like an efficient search;) Directed search if it arrived as same result, just 1000 years sooner.

    But how accurate is that “1000 years”? What is “the process” that they are referring to?

  8. 8
    Alex73 says:

    The significance is that quantum effects are more-or-less digital in nature. I.e. either you have it or not have it, there is no ‘I got a little, so let’s optimize to make it more!’. Also, experience tells us that they are rather difficult to create. Consequently, it is an effect that require very special configuration of participants, proteins or qbits quantum computers or you do not have it at all. Consequently, these are outside of the realm of ‘climbing mount improbable’ as the great prophet put it.

    There is also a hunch that the magnetic navigation of birds also use a quantum effect to measure the direction of Earth’s magnetic field.

  9. 9

    What I’m explaining is the Science 101 level of detail, as shown in this “Everything Is Energy” video:

    From our own personal conscious experiences we consider it a fact that consciousness exists in aggregates of matter called “living things”. We are one of them, and are conscious. It’s as simple as that.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    actually ‘everything is information’:

    John Wheeler (1911–2008) summarizes his life in physics – February 2014
    Excerpt: “I think of my lifetime in physics as divided into three periods. In the first period, extending from the beginning of my career until the early 1950?s, I was in the grip of the idea that Everything Is Particles. I was looking for ways to build all basic entities – neutrons, protons, mesons, and so on – out of the lightest, most fundamental particles, electrons, and photons.
    I call my second period Everything Is Fields. From the time I fell in love with general relativity and gravitation in 1952 until late in my career, I pursued the vision of a world made of fields, one in which the apparent particles are really manifestations of electric and magnetic fields, gravitational fields, and space-time itself.
    Now I am in the grip of a new vision, that Everything Is Information. The more I have pondered the mystery of the quantum and our strange ability to comprehend this world in which we live, the more I see possible fundamental roles for logic and information as the bedrock of physical theory.”
    – J. A. Wheeler, K. Ford, Geons, Black Hole, & Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics New York W.W. Norton & Co, 1998, pp 63-64.

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:

    “The thesis of my book ‘Being as Communion’ is that the fundamental stuff of the world is information. That things are real because they exchange information one with another.”
    Conversations with William Dembski–The Thesis of Being as Communion – video
    Book website:

  11. 11

    Although good for hunches reducing down to “everything is information” does not explain how consciousness, intelligence or intelligent cause works. An example of what does help to develop science changing theory is this I wrote for a forum Keiths knows too for demolishing ID. But notice that culture changers are (with or without knowing) presenting their own very original hypotheses, which when entertainingly tested support scientific theory that qualifies as ID (click my screenname for .pdf of the text).

    As predicted by the ID theory: when a central hedonic system is gauging confidence in motor actions the following scientific hypothesis (Movement is Happiness) that is here shown being tested must be true, even though the words movement and happiness may not seem to go together well enough to be accurate scientifically useful descriptors:

    Just Dance 2015 – Movement is Happiness

    Another is:

    Marina And The Diamonds – “I Am Not A Robot”

    I focus on a testable model that keeps things as Occam’s Razor simple as possible. What remains makes an excellent group project, among those who would normally have no influence upon the destiny of science.

    The word “information” ended up only adding a word to operationally define, where no matter how it’s worded leads to endless arguing over. I long ago (for sake of theory) had to shave all that off.

    It’s still fine to search for “information” related clues. The problem is that doesn’t make it easier to defend ID theory that is based on a model that demonstrates intelligence. In this case there is a system with a circuit that self-learns which even at the most rudimentary complexity even ends up with behavior that is inherently as controlling as we are. All else that is not needed (to explain how the model works) unnecessarily complicates things in regards to developing scientifically noncontroversial Theory of Intelligent Design.

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