Physicists investigate the role of quantum entanglement in the magnetic compasses of animals

Jun 21, 2010 By Lisa Zyga feature
Physicists have found that quantum entanglement may play a role in some types of magnetoreception with certain molecules, but more work is needed to determine the exact molecules involved in the magnetoreception of animals such as cows and others that seem to have a chemical compass. Image credit: Daniel Schwen.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many animals possess some kind of magnetic sense, allowing them to navigate by using a magnetic field. The ability to detect a magnetic field, called magnetoreception, has been observed in a variety of animals, including birds, turtles, sharks, lobsters, cows, fungi, and bacteria. However, scientists do not fully understand the mechanisms responsible for this ability. In a new study, physicists have investigated the role of quantum interactions in magnetoreception, and have shown that quantum technologies could be used to enhance or reduce the performance of an animal’s chemical compass, and potentially control other biological functions.

“I think our study has made clear that , as a genuine , may not only be observed in isolated and highly-controlled laboratory systems,” Hans Briegel, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Innsbruck, told PhysOrg.com. “It can also exist and play a role in biologically relevant systems, specifically the chemical compass, and we have described a route how this could in principle be investigated experimentally.”

In their study published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters, Briegel and coauthors Jianming Cai and Gian Giacomo Guerreschi explain that there are two main hypotheses of magnetoreception. One of these is called the radical-pair mechanism, in which magnetic receptors in an animal’s eye are activated by to produce a pair of free radicals. Each free radical has an unpaired electron, and the spins of the electrons are correlated. The interaction between the free radicals and a surrounding weak magnetic field can cause different kinds of spin correlations to occur, allowing an animal to “see” the magnetic field.

One of the things that the Innsbruck researchers wanted to know was whether the from the radical pairs needed to be quantum mechanically entangled, or whether classical correlations were sufficient to account for the sensitivity of the compass. In their calculations, they found that the answer largely depends on the radical-pair lifetime: for short lifetimes, such as in the case of a molecule used in recent spin-chemistry experiments, entanglement is a prominent feature; on the other hand, for long lifetimes, such as in the case of the molecule thought to be responsible for magnetoreception in European robins, entanglement does not seem to play a significant role.

Since scientists are not entirely certain which molecules are involved in the radical-pair mechanisms in different ’ chemical compasses, the question of whether animals use entanglement to detect magnetic fields remains an open question. However, the physicists suggest that certain experiments could be performed to help narrow down the possible molecular candidates in animal magnetoreception. For instance, by applying pi pulses that are parallel, perpendicular, or a variation of both to an animal’s surrounding , researchers may be able to observe how the quantum control protocol affects the animal’s orientation ability. The physicists stressed that much more work would be needed to study the effect of quantum control pulses on biological tissue before such experiments could be carried out safely.

Explore further: Micro-macro entangled 'cat states' could one day test quantum gravity

More information: Jianming Cai, Gian Giacomo Guerreschi, and Hans J. Briegel. “Quantum Control and Entanglement in a Chemical Compass.” Physical Review Letters 104, 220502 (2010). DOI:10.1103/PhysRevLett.104.220502

4.4 /5 (27 votes)

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User comments : 18

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CarolinaScotsman
4.3 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2010
I've often wondered if the much maligned phenomena called telepathy could, in a few genuine cases, be based on some type of biological quantum entanglement. Not really a believer, just like to ponder possibilities.
Objectivist
5 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2010
I've often wondered if the much maligned phenomena called telepathy could, in a few genuine cases, be based on some type of biological quantum entanglement. Not really a believer, just like to ponder possibilities.

I don't really understand how the mechanics of "biological quantum entanglement" would work, but let's suppose that this was possible. You do realize that this would make the ability exhaustible, right?
ppnlppnl
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 21, 2010
I've often wondered if the much maligned phenomena called telepathy could, in a few genuine cases, be based on some type of biological quantum entanglement. Not really a believer, just like to ponder possibilities.


That's not exactly an original thought. It isn't a very deep thought either. It would make more sense to show that a phenomena exists before hanging a cool "quantum" label on it.

I'm not much impressed with the article either. I mean why does it matter really? Must we hang a quantum label on everything simply because it is cool? Well in a deep sense everything is quantum anyway.
SincerelyTwo
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2010
ppnippni,

All life has evolved in the same playing field where quantum effects take place, it's all a part of the same nature. So to realize suddenly that those effects play a role in everything at some level shouldn't even be surprising, it should be expected.

It is absolutely critical we investigate all natural phenomena to understand it, regardless of any preconceived notions/bias' we might develop in response to fantasy movies and sci fi.

So why don't you relax your mind a bit and leave it open to what nature does, consider this; nature doesn't care about your opinions, it does what it can, so you may either work to understand it or remain in denial on principles you hold for no good reason.

It's likely telepathy is garbage, until reliable proof exists, but what's even more garbage is what you're spewing about how 'unoriginal' his thoughts are.

Are you suffering delusions thinking that your criticisms are original thought? They're just as meaningless and immature. Get real.
Jigga
2 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2010
Actually both of you have a bit of truth, but this is not a reason for doing personal attacks here - or not? People should learn, reality enables plural perspectives, which differ by reference frame of observer. For example observer deformed by gravity field tends to describe some reality from general relativity perspective, whereas the observer sitting outside of gravity lens would describe it from quantum mechanics perspective with causal time arrow reversed. Both of these observers are right and wrong at the same moment.
dtxx
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2010
Jigga, you forgot to mention foams and liquid interfaces.

Why is this surprising? Just because animals are macroscopic doesn't mean there aren't quantum interactions happening inside of them.
Truth
not rated yet Jun 21, 2010
I've read recently about the possibility of micro-tubules, which exist in biological cells and brain cells, being a "conductor" of quantum phenomena, due to their extremely small size. If Psi exists, it is postulated that these microtubules could be a form of guide or incubator for psi occurrences.
axemaster
5 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
"I've often wondered if the much maligned phenomena called telepathy could, in a few genuine cases, be based on some type of biological quantum entanglement. Not really a believer, just like to ponder possibilities."

You can't transfer information using entanglement, so no.
MarkyMark
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
I've read recently about the possibility of micro-tubules, which exist in biological cells and brain cells, being a "conductor" of quantum phenomena, due to their extremely small size. If Psi exists, it is postulated that these microtubules could be a form of guide or incubator for psi occurrences.

Yes an interesting idea that. I once heard a thought someone had considering the possabilaty that brain Neurons all have a possable 'string' attached to them. Of course considering this persons religiouse views he then sujested the idea that when someone dies the energy of his conchousness gets transfered via the strings to the wider 'membrain' that is theorised to exist giving rise to the outer body stories we get to hear from those who almost die. Of course i dont entirely belive this idea of his but i have to say it was a thought provoking one for me.
Gene_H
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
IMO microtubules aren't directly connected with quantum phenomena and they play a similar role in conducting of neural signals, like so called hollow core fibers in optoelectronic. They improve the non-dispersive soliton character of electrochemical signals ("spikes") spreading, thus optimizing their density.

In addition, in cells microtubules play a role of trays for organized transport of complex molecules & organelles along cells, where diffusion would be inefficient.

http://tinyurl.com/qjjrx
blawo
1 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2010

You can't transfer information using entanglement, so no.


You can teleport classical information with help of pre-prepared quantum entanglement.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
What would one call the phenomenon where a dog can sense it's owner leaving work and then go and prepare to wait for said owner to arrive?
This is pretty well-documented and has been studied to eliminate various co-incidental factors.

Just a thought.
JoeySimpson
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
I find it compelling that telepathy is said to be stronger between people who have bonded, and psychic gifts run in families. There's perfectly logical reasons why evolution would shape such abilities, and it would explain why the effects are so erratic, unpredictable and undefined. Yeah I've had too many weird experiences at this point and the debunkers aren't able to pry my astral hands away from my interpretations
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
What would one call the phenomenon where a dog can sense it's owner leaving work and then go and prepare to wait for said owner to arrive?
This is pretty well-documented and has been studied to eliminate various co-incidental factors.

Just a thought.

Because it would have nothing to do with the fact a dog has heightened senses and can hear you pulling up from a mile or two away.

There's no such thing as ESP.
Santiro17
not rated yet Jun 23, 2010
Ignoring quantum possibilities for the moment, How would a receptor recognize changes in spin correlation? Most sensory systems i've read about function on a larger molecular scale. I'm curious as to how electron spin would be transduced into action potentials.
danman5000
not rated yet Jun 28, 2010
To go left maybe not a cow, to go right maybe not a cow. If i go back i had already a cow because i go forward to find myself.


Sounds like an ancient Chinese proverb, but with 100% more insanity. Sublime, really.
slcsteve
not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
"You can't transfer information using entanglement, so no.


That statement isn't entirely true, so I wouldn't dismiss his point so roundly.
Hesperos
not rated yet Jul 01, 2010
I've often wondered if the much maligned phenomena called telepathy could, in a few genuine cases, be based on some type of biological quantum entanglement.

There are indications that telepathy and similar phenomena operate independently of time and space. If that were found to be the case I'm not sure that QM (as we understand it) would apply.

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