Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Quantum effects in biology: enzymes use quantum tunneling to speed chemical reactions

For those who, like me, are curious how the strange behavior of particles on a subatomic level affects the biological processes that make life possible and keep us walking around everyday, some fascinating new research has come out in the journal Science on how quantum phenomena help enzymes speed biochemical reactions. Indeed, without such quantum help, it seems unlikely we'd be here at all.

"While classical theory states that enzymes speed up the reaction by lowering the energy barrier, quantum tunneling allows the reaction to occur by tunneling through the barrier," explains one of scientists involved, David Leys of the University of Manchester. "As such, the reaction can occur at greater speeds than if the particle would have to reach energies high enough to surmount the barrier."

You can read more about the enzyme research in the April 14 edition of Science as well as in this article from Seed Magazine entitled "The Quantum Shortcut". Some interesting questions this raises are how the unusual quantum effects of nonlocality and entanglement addressed by Bell's Theorem might impinge on reactions that rely on quantum phenomena.


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