Quantum Coherence, Living Cells and Protein

Posted by Olly Robinson on 8 July 2009 | 0 Comments


Following last month's posting on quantum coherence and entanglement in living matter and an earlier posting on the Gregory Engel study, the notes below are a small summary of recent scientific papers relevant to this area. This material is somewhat dry and in places repetitive, but may be crucial in representing an emerging body of professional and usually peer-reviewed material suggestive of quantum activity in protein. This increasingly stands in answer to the braying chorus of 'pseudoscience' that usually greets any suggestion of quantum features in brain proteins. This chorus itself now looks to rely on surprisingly flimsy and increasingly out-of-date material.

Coherence dynamics in photosynthesis: Protein protection of excitonic coherence
Lee, H., Cheng, Y., Fleming, R.
University of California, Berkeley
Science, 316, (2007) p. 1462
The authors conducted experiments that demonstrated that the protein environment protected long-lasting quantum coherence between excited states in photosynthetic proteins. This allows excitations to move coherently, and is adaptive in allowing efficient use of light energy in photosynthesis. As a result of their experiments, the authors argue that the traditional position that each molecule in photosynthetic protein can be viewed independently cannot be sustained. Such long-lasting quantum coherence in protein is a fundamental aspect of the Penrose/Hameroff consciousness model.

Coherent Intrachain energy migration at room temperature
Elisabetta Collini & Gregory Scholes
University of Toronto
Science, 323, (2009), pp. 369-73
The authors conducted an experiment to observe quantum coherence dynamics in relation to energy transfer. The experiment, conducted at room temperature, examined chain conformations, such as those found in the proteins of living cells. Neighbouring molecules along the backbone of a protein chain were seen to have coherent energy transfer. Where this happens quantum decoherence (the underlying tendency to loss of coherence due to interaction with the environment) is able to be resisted, and the evolution of the system remains entangled as a single quantum state. The argument that quantum coherence should be lost under such conditions is itself one of the main arguments for dismissing the whole concept of quantum consciousness.

Excitation of vibrations in microtubules in living cells
J. Pokorny
Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Bioelectrochemistry, 63, (2004), pp. 321-6
This study discusses aspects of microtubules that are relevant to the Penrose/Hameroff consciousness model. An earlier paper by the author (Pokorny, J., 1999) claimed to show the cytoskeleton/microtubules satisfy the basic requirements for an oscillating electric field.
The author considers that energy generated within microtubules is sufficient to support excitation, even after taking account of loss of energy, as a result of microtubules being immersed in the watery (viscous) environment of the cytosol. A paper by Foster and Baish (2000) claimed to show that oscillations in microtubules would be damped out by the viscosity of the water surrounding the microtubule. The author criticises their approach for failing to take account of either the role of surrounding ions or of the ordering of the surrounding water. Ions in the surrounding cytosol are indicated to form a charged layer or cylindrical envelope around the microtubule. These ions are in turn surrounded by layers of ordered water (where the water dipoles take on a common orientation). The combined effect of the ion layer and the ordered water is to reduce the damping effect of the viscosity of water on excitations, and to thus help to sustain the survival of excitations within the microtubule. The ideas put forward here were experimentally tested by Pokorny in 2001. This experiment recorded electromagnetic emissions from cells, although more accurate tests would be needed to show that they came from the microtubules rather than other parts of the cell.

Electrical vibrations of yeast cell membrane
M. Cifra & J. Pokorny et al
Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and Czech Technical University
Piers Online, vol. 3, No. 8, 2007
This paper starts by referring to Fröhlich's foundational idea proposal (1968) that there could be electrically longitudinal vibrations in biological systems that generated an internal electromagnetic field. This hypothesis is frequently mentioned in discussions of quantum consciousness, but until the last few years, it has not been much followed up in terms of experimental studies.
The paper also refers to experiments by Pelling et al, in which an atomic force microscope detected oscillations in yeast cells. The oscillation ceased after the addition of a metabolic inhibitor suggesting that the oscillation was based on a cellular metabolism. The authors carried out an experiment of their own, in which they also detected electrical oscillation in yeast cells. They suggest that microtubules can be considered as vibrating chains of dipoles (molecules with opposite electrical poles) that generate an oscillating electrical field.
Their findings are seen as being consistent with Fröhlich's original postulate of longitudinal electrical vibrations in biological systems. The authors acknowledge some limitations on experimental accuracy, but go on to say that the existence of such an internal electromagnetic field in living cells has far reaching implications for the organisation of organisms in general.

Additional references:-
Fröhlich, H. - Bose condensation of strongly excited longitudinal electric modes - Phys. Letters Ser. A, vol. 26, (1968) pp. 402-3
Pelling, A. et al - Local nanomechanical motion of the cell wall - Science, vol. 305, (2004), pp. 1147-50
Pelling, A. et al - Time dependency and amplitude of the local nanomechanical motion of yeast - Nanomedicine, vol. 1, (2005), pp. 178-83
Pokorny, J. – Conditions for coherent vibrations in the cytoskeleton - Bioenergy, 48, (1999), pp. 267-71
Pokorny, J. - Viscous effects on polar vibrations in microtubules - Biol. Med., 22, (2003), pp. 15-19
Pokorny, J. - Electromagnetic activity of yeast cells - Electromagnetobiology, 20, (2001), pp. 371-96

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