Quantum biology refers to applications of quantum mechanics to biological objects and problems. Usually, it is taken to refer to applications of the "non-trivial" quantum features such as superposition, nonlocality, entanglement and tunneling, as opposed to the "trivial" but ubiquitous quantum mechanical nature of chemical bonding, ionization, and other phenomena that are the basis of the fundamental biophysics and biochemistry of organisms. It is still a tentative field, with research into it often being neglected in favor of other applications of quantum phenomena. It can be defined as the study of quantum phenomena within biological systems. Originally it had been thought that the heat engines of biological systems were not enough to produce quantum phenomena, but as evidence mounts that view has ceased to be popular.
Austrian-born physicist and theoretical biologist Erwin Schrödinger, one of the founders of quantum theory in physics, was also one of the first scientists to suggest a study of quantum biology in his 1944 book What Is Life?.
Many biological processes involve the conversion of energy into forms that are usable for chemical transformations and are quantum mechanical in nature. Such processes involve chemical reactions, light absorption, formation of excited electronic states, transfer of excitation energy, and the transfer of electrons and protons (hydrogen ions) in chemical processes such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Quantum biology uses computation to model biological interactions in light of quantum mechanical effects.
Some examples of the biological phenomena that have been studied in terms of quantum processes are the absorbance of frequency-specific radiation (i.e., photosynthesis and vision); the conversion of chemical energy into motion; magnetoreception in animals, DNA mutation and brownian motors in many cellular processes.
Recent studies have identified quantum coherence and entanglement between the excited states of different pigments in the light-harvesting stage of photosynthesis. Although this stage of photosynthesis is highly efficient, it remains unclear exactly how or if these quantum effects are relevant biologically.
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- Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Quantum Biology Workshop, September 2012, University of Surrey, UK - videos of plenary talks and interviews with participants