Tuesday, June 07, 2016

quantum criticality at the origin of life


arvix |  Why life persists at the edge of chaos is a question at the very heart of evolution. Here we show that molecules taking part in biochemical processes from small molecules to proteins are critical quantum mechanically. Electronic Hamiltonians of biomolecules are tuned exactly to the critical point of the metal-insulator transition separating the Anderson localized insulator phase from the conducting disordered metal phase. Using tools from Random Matrix Theory we confirm that the energy level statistics of these biomolecules show the universal transitional distribution of the metal-insulator critical point and the wave functions are multifractals in accordance with the theory of Anderson transitions. The findings point to the existence of a universal mechanism of charge transport in living matter. The revealed bio-conductor material is neither a metal nor an insulator but a new quantum critical material which can exist only in highly evolved systems and has unique material properties.

physorg |  Stuart Kauffman, from the University of Calgary, and several of his colleagues have recently published a paper on the Arxiv server titled 'Quantum Criticality at the Origins of Life'. The idea of a quantum criticality, and more generally quantum critical states, comes perhaps not surprisingly, from solid state physics. It describes unusual electronic states that are are balanced somewhere between conduction and insulation. More specifically, under certain conditions, current flow at the critical point becomes unpredictable. When it does flow, it tends to do so in avalanches that vary by several orders of magnitude in size.

In suggesting that biomolecules, or at least most of them, are quantum critical conductors, Kauffman and his group are claiming that their electronic properties are precisely tuned to the transition point between a metal and an insulator. An even stronger reading of this would have that there is a universal mechanism of charge transport in living matter which can exist only in highly evolved systems. To back all this up the group took a closer look at the electronic structure of a few of our standard issue proteins like myoglobin, profilin, and apolipoprotein E.