A new research paper brings new meaning to the joke that all science is just physics. A team of scientists at the National University of Singapore suggests that it is quantum entanglement that holds our DNA together.
It’s hard to prove, but it would be a potentially explosive finding, as Technology Review explains.
In quantum entanglement, two objects are connected by an invisible wave, like an umbilical cord, that allows them to essentially share the same existence. When something happens to one object, it immediately happens to the other, no matter how far apart they are.
Elisabeth Rieper and colleagues at the National University of Singapore say this entanglement might prevent the DNA double helix from shaking itself apart.
Technology Review’s blog provides a nice description of some complex physics. Here’s a breakdown:
Rieper and colleagues used a theoretical model of DNA in which each nucleotide consists of electrons orbiting a positively charged nucleus. The movement of the negative cloud is a harmonic oscillator.
When the nucleotides bond to form a base pair, the clouds must oscillate in opposite directions or the structure won’t be stable. Rieper and colleagues asked what would happen to those oscillations when the base pairs are stacked in a double helix.
The helix should vibrate and fall apart, but it doesn’t. Rieper and co. say this is because the oscillations occur as a superposition of states — meaning they oscillate in all possible states at once. That effectively holds it all together.
The question is how to prove all this, as Tech Review notes. Rieper and co. say that in a standard analysis, there’s not enough energy to hold DNA together, but their quantum theory makes it work. Still, that’s not enough experimental evidence to prove that biology, too, is really just physics.