Sound-like bubbles whizzing around in DNA are essential to life

June 2, 2016
Sound-like bubbles whizzing around in DNA are essential to life
Credit: University of Glasgow

Scientists have shown the weird world of quantum mechanics operating in the molecule of life, DNA.

The research, which was carried out by academics from the University of Glasgow and is published today in Nature Communications, describes how double-stranded DNA splits using delocalized sound waves that are the hallmark of quantum effects.

DNA contains the code to life and holds a blueprint for each and every living thing on earth. Dedicated enzymes responsible for making new proteins read the code by splitting the double strand in order to access the information. One of the big outstanding questions of biology has been how these enzymes find the initial hole or "bubble" in the double strand to start reading the code.

Dr Mario González Jiménez, researcher, explains, "It is believed that DNA has regions where a specific sequence of bases modifies the stiffness of the double helix favouring the formation of bubbles. This causes a break of the weak bonds between the strands showing the transcription and replication enzymes where to start their task."

Dr Gopakumar Ramakrishnan adds: "It had been proposed by theoreticians that such DNA bubbles might behave like sound waves, bouncing around in DNA like echoes in a cathedral. However, the current paradigm in biology is that such sound-like dynamics are irrelevant to biological function, as interaction of a biomolecule with the surrounding water will almost certainly destroy any of these effects."

Researchers in the Ultrafast Chemical Physics group at the University of Glasgow carried out experiments with a laser that produces femtosecond laser pulses about a trillion times shorter than a camera flash. This allowed them to succeed in the detection of sound-like bubbles in DNA. They could show that these bubbles whiz around like bullets in a shooting gallery even in an environment very similar to that which can be found in a living cell.

PhD student Dr Thomas Harwood, recently graduated from the University of Strathclyde, points out: "The in DNA are not your ordinary sounds waves. They have a frequency of a few terahertz or a billion times higher than a human or a dog can hear!"

Prof Klaas Wynne, leader of the research team and Chair in Chemical Physics at the University of Glasgow, explains: "The terahertz sound-like we have seen alter our fundamental understanding of biochemical reactions. There were earlier suggestions for a role of delocalized quantum phenomena in light harvesting, magneto reception, and olfaction. The new results now imply a much more general role for sound-like delocalized phenomena in biomolecular processes."

Explore further: Scientists to unlock the secrets of DNA sequence

More information: Mario González-Jiménez et al. Observation of coherent delocalized phonon-like modes in DNA under physiological conditions, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms11799

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8 comments

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teslaberry
5 / 5 (5) Jun 02, 2016
phonons. this IS FASINATING. surface wave phenomena are now being studied as they are part of the basis for the interaction between nanoscale shapes interact with their environment, including other shapes.

it is perhaps intuitive that surface wave energy in biological systems plays a great role in how they work. For example, the interaction between a membrane and both it's internal and external environment can start at one location but then sweep across the entire membrane. sodium channels and pottassium channels operate at their own level, and so does the extracellular fluids (their ph and ion balance) however, the surface waves interfacing on the membrane itself may play a major role in what is occuring as well.

super super interesting. of course, there will be a universe of possible target structures to study to explore the science of biological surface wave phenomena. i'd venture to say this is a more complex study than that of existing solid state research
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2016

"super super interesting. of course, there will be a universe of possible target structures to study to explore the science of biological surface wave phenomena. i'd venture to say this is a more complex study than that of existing solid state research."

I'd venture to say that youre venture to say - was a massive understatement...:-)
Ain't it Great!?!
(laughs maniacly as he enters his lab...)
kochevnik
1.6 / 5 (5) Jun 02, 2016
DNA is the basis of emotion. In addition to resonance at multiple octaves of baseline emotion, DNA is superconductive. Emotions adapt the organism to the environment. Brains evolved because complex organisms found adapting the environment to themselves useful as well
PPihkala
3 / 5 (5) Jun 03, 2016
Maybe these waves can work as a link between cell biology and electromagnetic waves. If these waves can be modulated by EM waves, they can have all kinds of effects to cell workings by altering the DNA transscription.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
5 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2016
Interesting, if it can be replicated.

Nitpick: DNA is no "a blueprint" as it doesn't tell how many product molecules (enzymes) and which goes where. It is better described as a recipe for maintenance and growth et cetera.

@kochevnik: The basis for brain/body states like emotions is the brain and the body. (DNA can be shown not to participate, as an individual cell does not display emotion.)

@PPihkala: These phonons are a bit localized despite what they say here, else they wouldn't travel, and that means they are not very amenable to non-UV light. If they were, prokaryotes protein synthesis would be affected by light/dark differences as such, but they don't seem to be.

Radio would affect on the molecular motion states (c.f. microwaves vs water molecule vibration), not on the more energetic phonons.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2016
@kochevnik: The basis for brain/body states like emotions is the brain and the body. (DNA can be shown not to participate, as an individual cell does not display emotion.)


Incorrect. DNA alteration is key in learning. This has been suggested and known for decades by Pribram and his successors. Single cell organisms display rudimentary emotion. Remember the basis of emotion is adapting the organism to the environment. Without emotion the adaptability of the organism decreases
orti
1 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2016
Nothing to see here folks. No miracles. Just an accident. Move along now.
BrettC
not rated yet Jun 06, 2016
Could this knowledge be used to devise better radiation shielding?

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