Quantum physics and You.
August 27, 2006 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Enzyme reactions use quantum tunneling. British scientists have apparently solved the question of how enzymes speed up atomic reactions -- through a quantum tunneling effect at the reaction site. Just when you thought biology couldn't get any cooler. [via]
posted by spiderwire (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
An interdisciplinary group of UK researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Bristol examined a single step of a reaction where an enzyme, aromatic amine dehydrogenase, extracts a proton from a substrate called tryptamine, a natural compound related to the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Quantum space elves ahoy!
posted by Artw at 10:17 AM on August 27, 2006

You can almost feel the author's smirk.

Yeah, the SEED article is by far the better of the two, but I saw the other one first so figured I might as well include it.

Quantum space elves ahoy!

I wish I could tell you that I didn't think the *exact same thing* upon reading that. :)
posted by spiderwire at 10:37 AM on August 27, 2006

I can only wonder at how many of the "interdisciplinary group of UK researchers" ended up eating quantities of the tryptamine. This article tends to reinforce my view of the nature of reality; it seems there are worlds hidden from our view. The metaphysics of the unknown?
posted by kuatto at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2006

That's pretty fascinating. Light on details, though. Since proteins are evolved and not designed they can end up using anything in any way.
posted by delmoi at 10:48 AM on August 27, 2006

Considering psychedelics are tryptamines (well, at least psilocybin and DMT) and act on the serotonin system, I can see a lot of speculation about the effects being much more than just chemistry.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:13 AM on August 27, 2006

(and a nod to artw, he said it first)
posted by rolypolyman at 11:13 AM on August 27, 2006

OK, this is really interesting. Thanks.
posted by caddis at 11:16 AM on August 27, 2006

Interesting and you get to use that fluxcapacitor tag you've been hording.
posted by jaronson at 11:36 AM on August 27, 2006

Neat, thanks!
posted by owhydididoit at 11:38 AM on August 27, 2006

I can see a lot of speculation about the effects being much more than just chemistry.

A lot of foolish, illeducated speculation, I imagine.

Much as I'd like to believe the DMT elves are "real," there's no good reason to believe that.

Now, if people want to say, well they're as real as the view of this "world" filtered through our conciousness and in large part created by it, then fine. No need to abuse atomic science.

5-methoxy-N-acetyltryptamine, now that's the drug of the future!
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:12 PM on August 27, 2006

Quantum tunneling in your kitchen.

I wonder, if not this, what phenomena could allow for a kind of "life" to evolve after the heat death of the rest of the universe?
posted by wobh at 1:42 PM on August 27, 2006

Homeopathy is just quantum tunnelling in your bathroom.
posted by rob511 at 1:58 PM on August 27, 2006

Judith Klinman at Berkeley showed that protons tunnel in enzymes in 1989 ('Hydrogen Tunneling in Enzyme Reactions' SCIENCE 243 (4896): 1325-1330 MAR 10 1989). P. Leslie Dutton has shown that electrons move through enzymes similarly (' The Nature of Biological Electron Transfer'
NATURE 355 (6363): 796-802 FEB 27 1992).

When you get a paper in a major journal like Science or Nature, your University's publicists try to make more of it than it usually is to get some cheap publicity. The interesting thing in the Brit's article was a better look at the connection between protein motion (dynamics) and tunneling, but a lot of other groups have reported similar things (also in similar journals). It's a small advance, but an advance nontheless. I certainly wouldn't say they discovered tunneling in enzyme reactions. First year biophysics grad students have been learning about that for at least the last decade.
posted by overhauser at 2:26 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

That was maybe a little harsh. Tunneling in enzymes is very cool, btw. And I like that some non-science types agree. Just don't let Brital's marketing drones make you think that they discovered it.
posted by overhauser at 2:31 PM on August 27, 2006

God, horrible "science" writing strikes again

No kidding. Isn't a quantum leap actually the smallest distance increment known to man?
posted by Citizen Premier at 5:57 PM on August 27, 2006

Isn't a quantum leap actually the smallest distance increment known to man?

No. I mean yes. (I love it when Wikipedia disambiguates based on capitalization.) (Am I derailing my own thread?)

So, overhauser, I got from the articles that this effect had been identified before, but that the British scientists had made a simulation that actually demonstrated how it would work. Is that correct?
posted by spiderwire at 6:23 PM on August 27, 2006

Although I should grant, that since electrons are clouds of probability, I'm not sure if it's accurate to actually say that they really move in a quantum leap. Perhaps it's just best to say that they change.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:04 PM on August 27, 2006

Quantum Tunneling... well at least we have a new euphamism for sex with scientists.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:37 PM on August 27, 2006

Like Overhauser said, this doesn't seem all that new. In grad school nearly 20 years ago they were talking about tiny movements in the active site causing much of the "magic" of enzyme catalysis. I don't recall the term "quantum tunneling", though, which is vastly cooler than "tiny thermal wiggling".

This is not to belittle the cited work, however - using NMR to watch an enzyme do its thing in real-time at near-atomic resolution is as close to seeing the world through God's eyes as any biochemist is likely to get. I'm not religious, but this is one of those profound perspectives that are usually reserved for radio astronomers and cosmologists, and it's rare for those of us in the micro and nano worlds to get this sort of deep look into the working of nature.
posted by Quietgal at 8:46 PM on August 27, 2006

I don't recall the term "quantum tunneling", though...

FYI, today's physics undergraduates are taught about tunneling, which is actually a fairly straightforward quantum effect. It's usually encountered in a Modern Physics or Intro to QM course.

Also, considering a few of the comments that have already been made in this thread, this seems as good a time as any to pre-emptively note that this movie is not good in any sense and deserves all the informed mockery and derision it receives. It's neither an influence on, nor a threat to, nor an accurate reflection of contemporary physics, but it always seems to arise in popular level discussions of anything involving the word "quantum". I know that we'd never bring it up here, but, you know, etc.
posted by gramschmidt at 9:26 PM on August 27, 2006

The trick is to leave whenever anyone mentions quantum mechanics and eastern philosophy in the same sentence.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:51 PM on August 27, 2006

Ok then I'll trash all my biology lectures
posted by zouhair at 5:53 AM on August 28, 2006

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