For The First Time, Scientists Saw Birds’ Mysterious Quantum Sense In Action

For The First Time, Scientists Saw Birds' Quantum Sense In Action

We know that birds can somehow sense the direction of the poles and is believed to be a clever trick of quantum physics and biochemistry which helps them travel vast distances on the planet.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo for the first time have directly observed an important reaction hypothesised to be behind this amazing talent for sensing the direction of earth’s poles.

More interesting thing here is that this is a proof of quantum physics directly affecting a biochemical reaction in a cell and have been seen in action for the first time.

Using a specially made microscope sensitive to faint flashes of light, the team watched a culture of human cells containing a special light-sensitive material respond dynamically to changes in a magnetic field.

The observed change in the lab match just what would be expected if a quantum effect was responsible for the illuminating reaction.

Biophysicist Jonathan Woodward said that that hasn’t modified or added anything to these cells

He thinks that they have extremely strong evidence that the have observed a purely quantum mechanical process affecting chemical activity at the very basic cellular level.

A cell's fluorescence dimming as a magnetic field passes over it. (Ikeya and Woodward, CC BY 4.0)
A cell’s fluorescence dimming as a magnetic field passes over it. (Ikeya and Woodward, CC BY 4.0)

Though there are several hypotheses, many scientists think that this ability is due to a quantum reaction involving photoreceptors called cryptochromes.

Cryptochromes are found in of many species and helps them in regulating circadian rhythms. In species of migratory birds, dogs, and other species, they’re linked to the mysterious ability to sense magnetic fields.

In fact, while most of us can’t see magnetic fields, our own cells do contain cryptochromes. And there’s evidence that even humans are actually capable of detecting Earth’s magnetism though not consciously.

To see the reaction within cryptochromes in action, the team bathed a culture of human cells containing cryptochromes in blue light caused them to fluoresce weakly. As they glowed, the team swept magnetic fields of various frequencies repeatedly over the cells.

They found that each time the magnetic field passed over the cells, their fluorescent dipped around 3.5 % which is enough to show a direct reaction.

Then the question which comes is How can a magnetic field affect a photoreceptor?

It all comes down to something called spin a property of electrons.

In a living cell, their entanglement will be lasting for a very short time.. But even these briefly correlating spins should last just long enough to make a subtle difference in the way their respective parent atoms behave.

In this experiment, as the magnetic field passed over the cells, the corresponding dip in fluorescence suggests that the generation of radical pairs had been affected.

“The joyous thing about this research is to see that the relationship between the spins of two individual electrons can have a major effect on biology,” says Woodward.

Journal Reference:
Noboru Ikeya and Jonathan R. Woodward Cellular autofluorescence is magnetic field sensitive PNAS (January 19, 2021) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2018043118

Press Release: University of Tokyo

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