Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

life-edge“Life on the Edge” provides an excellent overview of exciting discoveries and breakthroughs in the brand new field of quantum biology. Molecular biologist JohnJoe McFadden teams up with physicist Jim Al-Khalili to provide just the right amount of scientific background in order that non-scientifically educated readers can understand what kinds of quantum phenomena are being observed in biological systems, how scientists recognize this to be true, and why it matters.

A quiet revolution has begun in the way we understand biology that has the power to completely transform our worldview and lives. This revolution is happening slowly, as a body of evidence begins to build. This evidence comes from a wide variety of biological systems indicating that quantum processes previously assumed to be relegated exclusively to the microscopic realm of quantum physics can explain some of biology’s biggest mysteries. And as one might expect in a brand new field such as quantum biology, evidence is still coming in, so only a few examples–such as photosynthesizing plants definitely demonstrating quantum coherence and the ability to transport energy according to a quantum random walk–can be presented with complete confidence at this time. Other biological examples, such as our sense of smell involving quantum teleportation, and the European robin’s ability to navigate thanks to a quantum-entangled radical pair mechanism appear to be fairly solid.

In 1943, physicist Erwin Schrodinger presented the idea that biological life is dependent upon quantum processes at a very fundamental level. At a time when most scientists chose to focus primarily on classical physics when considering biological life forms, Schrodinger proposed the novel idea that biological heredity is based upon the principle of “order from order,” rather than “order from disorder” classical laws. McFadden and Al-Khalili state, “Just as Erwin Schrodinger predicted, quantum genes encode the classical structure and function of every microbe, plant and animal that has ever lived. This is not an accident, nor is it irrelevant, because high-fidelity copying of genes simply would not work if they were classical structures: they are too small not to be influenced by quantum rules.” (p. 229)

One of the things I most appreciate about “Life on the Edge” is the painstaking attention to detail when providing scientific and historic background information pertaining to each quantum biological example. “Life on the Edge” hits just the right mark in terms of drawing the reader in with tantalizing aspects regarding some of the challenges facing various scientists, and describing how scientific theories are in the process of being revised.

CynthiaSpeakerI highly recommend this book to anyone interested in seeing where biology is headed next–or simply curious to learn about some of the deepest mysteries of life.

–Reviewed by Cynthia Sue Larson,

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