Understanding biochemistry can be hard for a layman, quantum physics even more so. Biochemistry differs from the majority of life sciences in that it focuses more on pharmacology and chemicals than botany or zoology. Meanwhile Quantum physics focuses on the interrelation between microscopic phenomenons on the atomic level. This realization that organic functionality and molecular interactions are co-related is the reason quantum physics and its role in biology in general and biochemistry in particular is being understood. The fact that there is a correlation between the two fields has been known for decades, however microscopic phenomenon working on the principles of molecular mechanisms as a possible theory makes things more interesting to researchers and scientists.
Pharmacy companies are always looking for solutions to understand how complex molecules react and synthesize with each other. This is usually done at multimillion dollar facilities where supercomputers analyze the molecules. They look through the microscope and see dozens of electrons that whirl around inside the molecule. The analysis of these electrons which spin is something quantum physics can help understand. Biochemical reactions such as hemoglobin or photosynthesis in plants work on the theories of quantum physics because the theories of it apply to the working of every single electron. The simplified explanation here to infer is that both these fields- as far related as they may be- have a lot in common and future developments in either will benefit the other.
Purdue University’s physicist’s team headed by Jorge H. Rodriguez all the way back in 2005 pioneered a new field of study called “quantum biochemistry” which involved both quantum mechanics and biochemistry to help understand this branch further, though how many students decided to take it is another question; both Biochemistry and Quantum Physics are considered two of the most daunting streams of science. Regardless, at higher levels it is a certainty that these two streams will come together someday.
Chemical reactions and quantum physics
As stated above biological processes and quantum physics seem to have a correlation but, biochemistry is as much chemistry as it is biology, so what can we make of chemical reactions and the theory of quantum physics? A lot, judging by the statements made by Matthew Fisher and Leo Radzihovsky of the University of California on the 1st of August, 2017.
Put some thought in this: Biological processes govern life but it is the chemistry which makes it feasible. According to Dr. Rodriguez “Chemistry is vital for life, but physicists wonder how it can happen”. Here are the basics of it: At low temperature large number of particles act and behave similarly. This indistinguishability in photons for example makes laser light possible. Why and how this “indistinguishability” happens is not discovered yet.
However some particles- electrons for example- do not follow this principle. For one this “indistinguish” phenomenon only occurs at low temperature but at high temperatures, where we see the electrons play, requires high temperatures. This is where the USC researchers come into play and they have made a claim that quantum mechanics play a significant role in chemical processes, even at ordinary temperatures!
According to Fischer and Radzihovsky, quantum mechanics and properties may be lost at high temperatures but it doesn’t apply to every case. They gave a few examples that showed the influence of quantum physics in indistinguishability, one example being isotope fractionation, and believe that quantum indistinguishability plays a significant role in chemical processes even at normal temperature with this example and a few more that will be published soon. Most researchers, even at such high levels do not understand quantum physics but they must surely admit that there is a commonality between the two.
Future prospects and implications
The implications of the two subjects coming together cannot be stated, simply because we do not know much yet. But we live in such an age where technological evolution is happening at an incredible pace. Pharmaceuticals is a massive industry along with healthcare and if discoveries can be done on new drug compounds through quantum mechanics we could ponder endless possibilities. Quantum mechanics is the most fundamental level of a biochemical process and this is a true case of interdisciplinary sciences-physics, chemistry and biology come together.