Physicists make quantum leap in understanding life's nanoscale machinery

June 27, 2017, University of Queensland
Physicists make quantum leap in understanding life's nanoscale machinery
UQ's Mr Nicolas Mauranyapin, Professsor Warwick Bowen and Dr Lars Madsen. Credit: University of Queensland

A diagnostic technique that can detect tiny molecules signalling the presence of cancer could be on the horizon.

The possibility of an entirely new capability for detecting cancer at its earliest stages arises from University of Queensland physicists applying quantum physics to single molecule sensing for the first time.

Australian Research Council Future Fellow Professor Warwick Bowen said the research – reported in Nature Photonics this week – demonstrated how quantum technologies could revolutionise the study of life's "nanoscale machinery, or biological ".

"Motor encode our genetic material, create the energy our cells use to function, and distribute nutrients at a sub-cellular level," Professor Bowen said.

"Unlike methods currently available, the technique helps us observe the behaviour of single biomolecules without large-label particles or damaging light intensities."

PhD student Nicolas Mauranyapin said motor molecules drove all of life's primary functions, but scientists did not yet completely understand their workings.

"Our research opens a new door to study motor molecules in their native state, at the nanoscale," Mr Mauranyapin said.

Project researcher Dr Lars Madsen said the project applied techniques used to detect gravitational waves from black holes in outer space to the nanoscale – super small – world of molecular biology.

"The techniques required to detect extremely faint signals produced by distant were developed over decades," Dr Madsen said.

"Our research translates this technological development over to the biosciences and offers the possibility of a new biomedical diagnostics technique capable of detecting the presence of even a single cancer marker molecule."

Researchers from five countries - Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France and Pakistan – were involved in the project.

It is funded by the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which aims to use the to help understand stress on pilot behaviour at the sub-cellular level.

The project is part of the University of Queensland Precision Sensing Initiative, a joint initiative of the schools of Mathematics and Physics and of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering.

It was supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, which aims to develop next-generation for future Australian industries.

Explore further: UQ, partners taking computing out of this world

More information: N. P. Mauranyapin et al. Evanescent single-molecule biosensing with quantum-limited precision, Nature Photonics (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2017.99

Related Stories

Nanoscale sensor to spot disease

March 28, 2017

A new nanoscale sensor has been developed that can help detect cytokines—molecules that play a critical role in cellular response to infection, inflammation, trauma and disease.

Quantum microscope for living biology

February 4, 2013

(Phys.org)—A team of Australian scientists has developed a powerful microscope using the laws of quantum mechanics to probe the inner workings of living cells.

New sensor devices recycle atoms

April 12, 2017

Next-generation sensors to be used in fields as diverse as mineral exploration and climate change will be turbo boosted thanks to University of Queensland and University of Sussex research.

Black holes on an electronic chip

January 26, 2017

A team of theoretical physicists has proposed a way to simulate black holes on an electronic chip. Additionally, the technology used to create these lab-made black holes may be useful for quantum technologies. The researchers ...

Recommended for you

How community structure affects the resilience of a network

June 22, 2018

Network theory is a method for analyzing the connections between nodes in a system. One of the most compelling aspects of network theory is that discoveries related to one field, such as cellular biology, can be abstracted ...

The pho­to­elec­tric ef­fect in stereo

June 22, 2018

In the photoelectric effect, a photon ejects an electron from a material. Researchers at ETH have now used attosecond laser pulses to measure the time evolution of this effect in molecules. From their results they can deduce ...

Water can be very dead, electrically speaking

June 21, 2018

In a study published in Science this week, the researchers describe the dielectric properties of water that is only a few molecules thick. Such water was previously predicted to exhibit a reduced electric response but it ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2017
Physicists make quantum leap in understanding life's nanoscale machinery

I wonder if anyone ever reflects on the fact that a "quantum leap" is the smallest possible step.
EmceeSquared
1 / 5 (1) Jun 27, 2017
antialias_physorg:
I wonder if anyone ever reflects on the fact that a "quantum leap" is the smallest possible step.


Haha. Nah, I expect they're obsessed with the idea of moving from point A to point B without passing through points A.a - A.z . And in making a trite pun in a headline.
swordsman
not rated yet Jun 28, 2017
Excellent work! This methodology, involving the electromagnetic properties of atoms and molecules, is now applied to cancer molecules. It could be one of the greatest accomplishment in treating cancer discovered. In addition, it could be applied in other medical or non-medical applications. It is quite unfortunate that it took so long (over a century) to utilized the methodology of Planck's original quantum theory as based on electromagnetic models.
EmceeSquared
1 / 5 (1) Jun 28, 2017
swordsman:
utilized the methodology of Planck's original quantum theory as based on electromagnetic models.


Where does this new technique utilize "Planck's original quantum theory"?

Are you implying that this technique uses quantum theories ignored since Planck's lifetime? Because the article clearly explains the technique uses completely mainstream QM theories though in a novel application:

'the project applied techniques used to detect gravitational waves from black holes in outer space to the nanoscale – super small – world of molecular biology.
"The techniques required to detect extremely faint signals produced by distant black holes were developed over decades"'

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.