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Surprising Science

How Quantum Mechanics Might Govern Life on Earth

Previously limited to explaining the behavior of subatomic particles, quantum mechanics may govern biological life and be selected for by evolution, says cosmologist Paul Davies. 

What’s the Latest Development?


Some scientists are beginning to believe that quantum mechanics determine macroscopic biological functions such as bird migration and our sense of smell. “Mounting evidence now suggests birds may be relying on quantum entanglement—the strange ability of particles to share properties even when separated, so that if an action is performed on one, the other feels its consequences. Scientists think the process is made possible by a protein inside birds’ eye cells called cryptochrome.” The change in opinion is significant because, until recently, the quantum laws that describe how subatomic particles behave were thought to be too strange to apply to biological processes. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Arizona State University cosmologist Paul Davies believes evolution may have selected for quantum laws that confer benefits on individual species. “Life has been around for a long time—3.5 billion years on this planet at least—and there’s plenty of time to learn some quantum trickery if it confers an advantage,” he said. Davies also believes that quantum mechanics can help explain how life arose from inanimate elements: “Life is clearly a distinctive state of matter. What we would like to know is if that distinctiveness is fundamentally quantum mechanical.” Others remains skeptical and say that just because life is strange and quantum mechanics are strange, the two are not necessarily related in an intimate way. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


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