Summary

Clarice D. Aiello is a quantum engineer interested in how quantum physics informs biology at the nanoscale. She is an expert on nanosensors harnessing room-temperature quantum effects in noisy environments.  Experiments suggest that nontrivial quantum mechanical effects involving spin might underlie biosensing phenomena as varied as magnetic field detection for animal navigation, metabolic regulation in cells and optimal electron transport in chiral biomolecules.  Can spin physics be established – or refuted! – to account for physiologically relevant biosensing, and be manipulated to technological and therapeutic advantage? This is the broad, exciting question that the Quantum Biology Tech (QuBiT) Lab wishes to address.

Presenters

From nanotech to living sensors

  • Clarice works on quantum effects related to biological phenomena
  • Currently the focus is on measurements of biological systems using quantum effects
  • Electron spin is a quantum mechanical property that responds to magnetic fields
  • Extremely small diamond sensors can be constructed using electron spin to measure magnetic fields by utilizing crystal defects to absorb light and fluoresce based on spin.  These sensors work at room temperature, which makes it ideal for biological systems.
  • In a biology context, certain chemical reactions can be altered by magnetic fields due to altering the electron spin
  • It may be possible that birds and other organisms use these spin-dependent reactions to detect the orientation of earths magnetic field
  • Cryptochrome can sustain spin-dependent reactions, and are present in the retina of birds and the antennae of butterflies, as well as in humans where it is used for circadian rhythm functions.  It is widely conserved in nature.
  • Experiments are being designed by Clarice to correlate spin physics and phenomena in living cells to further investigate this magnetic field detection concept
  • The bottleneck is to measure and control these interactions in vivo
  • Evidence suggests spin dependent reactions are involved with reactive oxygen species production, respiration rates, glycolysis rates, stem-cell mediated growth, DNA repair, and morphology development
  • This may have space travel safety implications
  • These reactions appear to be linked to small magnetic fields, such as the earths magnetic field
  • There are three ways organisms are sensitive to magnetic fields – sharks and rays have conducting tubes which have voltages induced via crossing magnetic lines.  Some bacteria have magnetite crystals that align with the magnetic field of the earth.  These magnetite crystals need to be chunky in order to overcome thermal tumbling.  Birds don’t seem to have these large magnetite crystals.
  • DNA repair enzymes in bacteria, photolyase appears to respond to magnetism similarly to cryptochrome
  • Enzymes seem to work via quantum tunneling mechanisms (different quantum effect)

Challenge:

  • There is a lack of quantum people – people who build instruments – in the field of biology.  General funding for quantum biology is lacking.