Despite otherwise “astounding precision”?
The molecules of life, DNA, replicate with astounding precision, yet this process is not immune to mistakes and can lead to mutations. Using sophisticated computer modelling, a team of physicists and chemists at the University of Surrey have shown that such errors in copying can arise due to the strange rules of the quantum world.
The two strands of the famous DNA double helix are linked together by subatomic particles called protons – the nuclei of atoms of hydrogen – which provide the glue that bonds molecules called bases together. These so-called hydrogen bonds are like the rungs of a twisted ladder that makes up the double helix structure discovered in 1952 by James Watson and Francis Crick based on the work of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.
Normally, these DNA bases (called A, C, T and G) follow strict rules on how they bond together: A always bonds to T and C always to G. This strict pairing is determined by the molecules’ shape, fitting them together like pieces in a jigsaw, but if the nature of the hydrogen bonds changes slightly, this can cause the pairing rule to break down, leading to the wrong bases being linked and hence a mutation. Although predicted by Crick and Watson, it is only now that sophisticated computational modelling has been able to quantify the process accurately.University of Surrey, “Quantum mechanics could explain why DNA can spontaneously mutate” at Eurekalert (May 5, 2022)
The paper is open access.