Seeing our world through the eyes of migratory birds will be a rather strange experience. Certain knowledge about their visual system allows them to “see” the magnetic field of our planet, which is a clever technique of quantum physics and biochemistry that can help them navigate long distances.
Now, for the first time in history, scientists at the University of Tokyo have directly observed a hypothetical key reaction that is thought to be the intelligence of birds and many other creatures that can perceive the direction of planetary poles.
Importantly, this is evidence that quantum physics directly affects biochemical reactions in cells-we have assumed this for a long time, but we have never seen it in action before.
The team used a tailor-made microscope that is sensitive to weak flashes to observe the dynamic response of human cell cultures containing special photosensitive materials to changes in magnetic fields.
The changes that the researchers observed in the laboratory are exactly the changes expected by the lighting response caused by the weird quantum effect.
Biophysicist Jonathan Woodward (Jonathan Woodward) said: “We did not modify or add anything to these cells.”
“We think we have very strong evidence that we have observed pure quantum mechanical processes that affect chemical activity at the cellular level.”
So how do cells, especially human cells, respond to magnetic fields?
Despite several hypotheses, many researchers believe that this ability is due to a unique quantum reaction involving hidden photoreceptors.
Cytochromes are found in cells of many species, and they are involved in regulating the circadian rhythm. Among migratory birds, dogs, and other species, they are related to the mysterious ability to sense magnetic fields.
In fact, although most of us cannot see the magnetic field, our own cells definitely contain leuco dye. And there is evidence that even if it is not conscious, humans can actually detect the magnetic force of the earth.
In order to observe the internal reaction of cytochromes, the researchers soaked human cell cultures containing cryptochromes in blue light to make them faintly fluorescent. When they glowed, the research team repeatedly swept magnetic fields of various frequencies across the cells.
They found that every time the magnetic field passed through the cells, their fluorescence dropped by about 3.5%, enough to show a direct response.
So how does the magnetic field affect the photoreceptor?
It all boils down to the inherent properties of spin-electrons.
We already know that spin is greatly affected by magnetic fields. Arrange the electrons around an atom in the correct way, and gather enough electrons in one place, and then the mass of matter produced can be moved using a weak magnetic field (such as the magnetic field surrounding our planet).
If you want to give a needle for the navigation compass, all this is fine. However, since there is no obvious indication that there are magnetic sensitive materials inside the pigeon skull, physicists have to consider reducing the size.
In 1975, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute named Klaus Schulten proposed a theory about how magnetic fields affect chemical reactions.
It involves so-called free radical pairs.
Many plant free radicals are an electron in the outer shell of an atom, which does not combine with the second electron.
Sometimes these bachelor electrons can use “wing forwards” in another atom to form radical pairs. The two are not paired, but are considered entangled due to the shared history, which means that no matter how far apart they are, their rotations correspond weirdly.
Since this correlation cannot be explained by a continuous physical connection, it is purely a quantum activity, and even Einstein considered it “weird”.
In the hustle and bustle of a living cell, their entanglement will be fleeting. However, even these transiently related spins should last long enough to make subtle differences in the behavior of their respective parent atoms.
In this experiment, when the magnetic field passes through the cell, the corresponding drop in fluorescence indicates that the generation of free radical pairs is affected.
An interesting result of this research may be that even weak magnetic fields may indirectly affect other biological processes. Although there is little evidence that magnetic fields affect human health, similar experiments may prove to be another way to conduct research.
Woodward said: “The great thing about this research is that seeing the relationship between the spins of two electrons could have a major impact on biology.”
Of course, birds are not the only animals that rely on our magnetosphere to guide their directions. Fish, worms, insects and even certain types of mammals have their know-how. We humans may even be cognitively affected by the earth’s weak magnetic field.
The development of this ability could have taken many different actions based on different physics.
There is evidence that at least one of them links the weirdness of the quantum world to biological behavior, which is enough to force us to suspect which other aspects of biology are caused by the weird depth of basic physics.
This research is published in PNAS.