The storied past of discoveries in biology has largely been driven by a need to understand how to better treat sickness. We have always had an inward fascination, trying to deduce why our outward features look a certain way, how diseases contract, and where we come from. With this understanding gained from experimenting with and observing humans, animals, and plants, the way we perceive the natural world today is now through an entirely different lens. The abstractions civilization has placed on nature are intricate to say the least, ranging from simple diagrams and philosophies around why and how we need to interact with nature, to calculus based functions that work with matrices and deal with completely non-linear systems.
Quantum computing has went through its own development based largely on necessity. The first understanding of quantum mechanics and quantum algorithms came largely from money aimed at aiding the war effort during World War II, and continued funding coming from further defense budgets focused on creating a very robust defense against the Russians during the Cold War period. Even today, quantum algorithms and quantum computing is largely researched for its ability to create new materials that could aid in developing new weapons and for its ability to destroy encryption systems.
But, both technologies have proved quite useful for many functions beyond their intended use cases. The intersection of the two can just accelerate development in each area even further, with the low costs, renewability, and functionality of biology playing in perfect harmony with the efficiency of quantum computing.
When I first learned about quantum entanglement within DNA, I viewed it with plenty of healthy skepticism. In particular, I thought it was just another abstraction to make it easier for scientists to understand and programmatically plan cellular interactions. However, just as the mathematical and physics based theoretical research in this field began to grow, so did the physical evidence of a new interaction medium seldom thought to exist.
This area of research started as a new way to understand the vibrational modes within and between the nucleic acids of DNA. These vibrations were investigated to be the reasoning behind the speed of DNA generation, the certain folds of the helix structure, and the resistance of DNA to be affected by the water that it resides in at a biological operating temperature. Models of these vibrational modes started out as classical, binary models of the Van der Waals and Dipole-Dipole interactions. But, the emergence of quantum mechanical models in chemistry led some scientists to ponder on the possibility that these classical biological models could be pinned to a series of entanglements, which would explain the two biggest flaws of the classical systems: time and distance.
The first paper that really grabbed my attention on the idea of quantum entanglement in DNA was a paper published by Elisabeth Rieper from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2010. Titled “Quantum entanglement between the electron clouds of nucleic acids in DNA”, the paper is theoretical in nature and tries to establish a sound argument for how quantum entanglement could occur between electron clouds.
The team came to this conclusion after setting up quantum harmonic oscillators to act as the distribution mechanism for electrons in a dipole-dipole interaction between each of the nucleic acids. When they set this up, they saw that the time taken for the oscillators to operate and the way in which they operated was the same as what was observed naturally within DNA.
This was the result of trying to calculate the amount of energy created by the dipole dipole interactions between the nucleic acids assuming that each acid acts as a conduit for quantum entanglement. The team were able to get this energy after they used Coulomb’s Law for each of the electrons found within the acids.
Figure 1: Coulomb’s Law
After they found this, they were able to estimate the coupling strength of the entanglement by assuming that DNA is a quantum system that follows the same quantum mechanical behavior as materials with a magnetic field. This assumption was made because the key determination factor for a strand of DNA’s folds is the degrees of freedom of energy within each fold, similar to the key determination factor for a material’s magnetic nature.
This is where they learned something interesting: if DNA was indeed a quantum mechanical system, its entanglement happens at room temperature. This was determined by setting up a ratio between the temperature at which the entanglement would have to occur within a biological system and the coupling strength for 2 different electron dispersion energies. If this ratio is less than 1, then the coupling strength is believed to be stronger than the effects of noise generated by temperature. For a dispersion energy of 0.01 and an energy of 1, DNA’s ratios were 0.16 and 0.05. Thus, based on the energy within each nucleic acid, DNA could be a set of quantum entanglements that occur at room temperature.
Figure 2: Ratio between coupling strength and temperature from Rieper’s work
This work was later added to with Professor Kurian of Howard University’s work on the entanglement of nucleic acids that would serve as the basis for the type II endonuclease recognition sequences. These are enzymes that attach to and pull out particular sections of DNA and are extremely useful for gene cloning exercises and for identifying the results of a gel electrophoresis, which identifies which nucleic acids are found within a strand of DNA.
Kurian was curious: there existed many pieces of literature around how the endonucleases work, but little to nothing existed about how the endonucleases go from scanning for the right base pairs to catalysis and cutting the right strand. This was especially confusing as the endonucleases seemed to work synchronously without ever touching one another for communication.
Kurian set up a model in which phonons, excited clusters of electrons, were the basis for information transfer between the different phosphodiester bonds that make up the backbone of nucleic acids. If these phonons were to communicate with each other using quantum entanglement between their vibrational modes, then the moment at which the cleaving of the strand takes place from the strand is the point at which coherence is broken.
The model was applied to strands of 8 base pairs that were cut by one endonuclease in a computer model. The results proved that the type II endonuclease’ catalysis could be determined from a set of phonons that communicate with each other within a coherence shield that is created at the beginning of the cleaving process. However, the experimental proof was yet to be produced.
After reading both papers, I wanted to see some sort of physical proof that the endonucleases and the nucleic acids within DNA are not being determined in a classical way. I wanted to find some type of physical proof to what Kurian and Rieper had found regarding the degrees of freedom obtained for the spin of electrons within nucleic acids.
Professor Naaman and his team at the Weizmann Institute of Science working with a team at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster took bands of DNA made up of 50–80 base pairs each, placed them on gold nanoparticles, and exposed them to varying electromagnetic situations. Through these fields, they found that the DNA was actually determining an electron spin and transferring energy to the gold. This was found by measuring the spin using a Mott polarimeter.
This experiment proves that DNA does determine an electron spin and does play a role within energy pathways as more than just a data storage device for the cell. But, this could very well be a completely classical relationship between the amount of energy that passes through DNA, the polarity of the magnetic field, the number of base pairs, and the temperature.
Physical manifestations of quantum entanglement’s role as the means of communication within DNA has been seen in two major papers. One paper, written by Dr. Montagnier of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, found that DNA was inducing electromagnetic waves into water. Another paper, written by Professor Tao of Arizona State and Professor Beratan of Duke, looks at the possibility of using DNA as a nanowire that would transfer energy via its quantum waves after actually constructing a DNA based circuit.
Dr. Montagnier’s discovery came as an accident from trying to separate a bacterium from a virus using a filtrate, which in this case is a type of filter that is diluted in water. When the filtrate on its own was paired to a human lymphocyte cell, it was found that the DNA of the bacterium was maintained.
To understand why the filtrate was able to hold this data, Montagnier and associates set up an electromagnet.The DNA was the source sending energy through a solenoid into a computer that would analyze the current. The team discovered that DNA within a bacteria does emit electromagnetic waves when in certain dilutions. They also discovered that these waves were resistant to detergents, yet were temperature sensitive, operating between -80℃ and 70℃. Further, the team was able to actually move a DNA fragment between filtrates using nothing but electromagnetic waves.
Not only did this paper uncover a new means of data transmission that occurs between DNA and a medium, but it also provided at least some proof to the types of interactions that Kurian and Reiper were theorizing. With electromagnetic waves moving between mediums to transmit information being proven to be true, the idea of phonons being used as a medium of distribution between individual nucleic acid in a similar way within a coherent environment is not too far off.
This is exactly what the team at Duke were able to do. The main purpose of their experiment was to identify why DNA changes its electron flow, from a particle to particle hop across base pairs to a continuous flow without any disruptions. Using the nucleic acid Guanine as their test subject, they were able to create a coherent system that allowed for a charge to flow between Guanine base pairs across a segment of DNA. This came after a realization that large variations of base pairs in a chain of base pairs can lead to more random movements and disrupt the flow of electrons. Upon further investigation, Beratan and his team found that the best flow would be created with 5 alternating Guanine base pairs.
Since the flow moves most closely to a wave and can only spread information over a very specific environment with exacting temperature parameters, space parameters, dilution parameters, and more, the authors of this paper strongly believe that this strong electron flow is a quantum wave. But, the appearance of actual entanglements was not addressed in this piece and remains an area of theory.
There are other papers focused on different aspects of the mathematical models created to show that DNA could be a set of quantum oscillators working together. One paper from Yunman University tries to show how DNA’s components are like strings that communicate with one another using vibrations in a quantum coherent environment. Another paper looks at DNA being made of fermions that act within the phosphodiester bonds that are only communicated with one another through quantum waves.
There has yet to be a simulation of quantum entanglement between either nucleic acids or individual phosphodiester bonds that has been used in real life to manipulate DNA. If this were to be done, it would validate the models that prove DNA to be a set of quantum entanglements, and not just a set of classical operations that occur in a coherent environment. Thanks to the advancements mentioned in these papers, doing such an experiment would not be an incredibly arduous feat. It would be another piece of work that simply innovates on previous advancements in biotechnology.
The problem is one of awareness about this particular topic. A majority of the discoveries mentioned here were made on accident over the course of almost a decade. There has been little resource allocation to the development of a quantum DNA framework, even though its importance in curing diseases, finding out how we were created, and in the future of computing has been noted again and again. The only group I have found solely working on this concept is The Oxford Martin Programme on Bio-Inspired Quantum Technologies, whose main accomplishment, among many, has been the creation of a biological photonics device. This device alone is a huge stepping stone towards fully harnessing quantum systems either built with biological parts or used to improve bioengineering endeavors. But, this one group’s effort is certainly not enough to really bring the technology forward.
In the coming years, I hope to work more towards this idea of a quantum DNA that we can manipulate with entanglement. But this is definitely not a feat I or any other researcher can do alone. Please share this article with everyone you know to spread the information around quantum entanglement in DNA and the possible impact it has on everything we know about biology. Awareness, continued innovation, and replicability are necessary to take such an already extensive body of work to the next level.