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    Quantum Bio BR Summit: Brazil takes a step forward in quantum biology

    August, 4th 2023

    From new diagnostic technologies to a deeper understanding of natural phenomena, Quantum Biology encompasses a fascinating universe to be explored by science. On November 21/22, 2022, the Quantum Bio BR Summit brought scientists, students, and enthusiasts together in the city of Rio de Janeiro for a series of lectures on the subject. The event, organized by Pioneer Science in partnership with the University of California (UCLA) and the Instituto D’Or de Pesquisa e Ensino (IDOR), showed the sector’s potential by connecting researchers from Brazil and the world to strengthen a new look at studies that encompass the relationship between quantum phenomena and living organisms.

    “Quantum biology is an emerging field and still little explored in the science world, and this is an opportunity for Brazil to ride this wave while it is being formed and become an international leader. The idea of creating the Quantum Bio BR Summit is to stimulate this area in the country by highlighting research in multiple fields, from mathematics to physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine. I was surprised by the level of dialogue that took place between researchers from different areas” says Dr. Sergio Ferreira, neuroscientist, Professor at the Institute of Biophysics at UFRJ, and Scientific Director of the Pioneer Science initiative.

    Evidence and Evolution of quantum biology

    To welcome the audience, Johnjoe McFadden, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey (UK), opened the program. The author of works such as “Quantum Evolution” and “Life on the Edge” gave an introductory overview of how particles, chemical and physical phenomena are interconnected with living beings – from photosynthesis to the “magnetic compass”, which orients birds to migrate during season changes.

    During the afternoon of the first day of the seminar, Wendy Bane (University of Western Michigan), Jeanlex Souza (UFC), Mauricio Baptista da Silva (USP), Jerson Lima (UFRJ) and Tommaso Macrí (UFRN) spoke about the potential evidence of quantum phenomena in biology. In the following session, the elements necessary for Quantum Biology guided presentations by Marcos César Oliveira (Unicamp), Guilherme Menegon (USP), Daniel Kattnig (University of Exeter) and Pierre Fechine (UFC).

    Quantum sensing and technological approaches

    Clarice Aielo and Marcelo Souza speak on stage at Quantum Bio BR Summit
    Clarice Aielo says she hopes to show how it is possible to learn from nature to build better technologies.

    The studies presented at the morning lecture session on the 22nd were conducted using technological approaches to quantum sensing. Researcher Gabriela Lemos, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Physics at UFRJ and member of the editorial board of the journal Quantum Science and Technology (IOP Publishing), addressed the quantum states of light and the human visual system.

    The researcher’s conclusions are that recent developments in camera technologies and photon sources have enabled new image concepts. All of these can be useful for extremely low intensity light samples and when the wavelength is far below or above the visible range. Analogous methods have been developed, such as ghost imaging (a technique with two light detectors, in which the object and the imaging system are in separate optical paths), but further research will be needed on resolution, signal-to-noise ratio and sensitivity to understand which will be the practical applications of such discoveries. There is potential to combine ideas from these new methods with established ones such as OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography Scan) and microscopy.

    Interested in researching how quantum physics informs biology at the nanoscale, quantum engineer Clarice Aiello opened the conversation with quantum measurements on “living sensors”. She shared some of her experience using a magnetic quantum sensor enhanced with spins in a diamond (spin is the orientation that charged subatomic particles, such as protons and electrons, can present when immersed in a magnetic field).

    The researcher hopes to show how it is possible to learn from nature to build better technologies. From there, she spoke about current, light and smell sensors with similar mechanisms as found in animals and the environment. Spin-sensitive chemical reactions may underlie relevant biological phenomena. She cited studies with evidence showing how weak magnetic fields can alter stem cell-mediated growth.

    If chemical reactions depend on spin and can be influenced by magnetic fields, quantum biology could be the link between the development of innovative devices to make diagnoses or treat pathologies. But there is a technological limitation to deal with spins in vivo, which needs to be developed. Reflections and questions were raised. Can quantum physics explain physiologically relevant biological phenomena and be manipulated for technological and therapeutic advantages?

    Gabriela and Clarice’s talks were followed by lectures by Daniel Felinto (UFPE), Cristiano de Mello Gallep (Unicamp) and Ado Jorio (UFMG). Daniel talked about the potential for biological systems to benefit from quantum entanglement. Cristiano spoke about the quantum phenomena of photoluminescence in germination. And Ado lectured on the generation of correlated quantum photons in Raman spectroscopy.

    To close the lecture sessions at the Quantum Bio BR Summit, Francisco Laurindo (USP), Douglas Brash (Yale), Pedro Pascutti (UFRJ), Marcelo Sousa (Bright Photomedicine) and Pedro Alvarez (Gleb Wataghin Institute of Physics) spoke on topics related to diseases, genetics and metabolism studied under the prism of quantum physics.

    Paul Davies: What is life?

    Invited to close the event in the evening of the 22nd, Professor Paul Davies, from Arizona State University, presented a lecture inspired by the book “What is Life?”, written by physicist Erwin Schrödinger, in 1944. Paul brought to the Summit his expertise in research on the origin of the universe and quantum field theory. The conversation started with a provocation: is it possible to explain life through the concepts of physics? Or is it necessary to create a new physics that is capable of such a thing?

    The researcher explained that, in the universe of Quantum Biology, the plausible may exist, such as the example of proton tunneling, characterized by the disappearance of a proton in a space and its reappearance in another point; or the speculative, like Roger Penrose’s theory, which explains that consciousness is a quantum phenomenon. The fact is that there is no metric that differentiates whether there is life or not – what differentiates a space with many particles from having life or not? The public was able to visualize the great potential to be explored by Quantum Biology when the professor mentioned examples such as bioelectricity, to treat birth defects or repair tissues, in addition to experiments in space, with low gravity, and which affect the expression of genes.

    Quantum Bio BR Summit Highlights

    Sergio Mello, Sergio Ferreira and Jorge Moll at the Quantum Bio BR Summit
    The Pioneer Science initiative was presented at the event and the Schrödinger Prize in Quantum Biology was announced.

    Sergio Ferreira also spoke about initiatives such as Quantum Vision, a project supported by the Pioneer Science initiative that is jointly being developed by investigators from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), and IDOR. In the study, led by researchers Ado Jorio, Gabriela Lemos and Marcelo França, neuroscientists, physicists and biophysicists analyze the limiting fundamentals of visual perception.

    The connections formed at the meeting were analyzed by researchers from the Center for Educational Assessment at UCLA. The goal is to map whether the dynamics and interactions were productive and extract information to improve the event in future editions. For Clarice, the result is encouraging: “The Quantum Bio Summit showed that there is public interest in Quantum Biology, many were exposed to the topic for the first time. In addition to people being more open, the scientific community found that there is an overlap in the sector. It’s a call for Brazil to enter this field as quickly as possible and take the lead. It’s worth continuing.”

    For Sergio, other highlights were the debates on quantum sensors, equipment for detecting photons, electromagnetic radiation, magnetism, and other parameters dependent on quantum phenomena. “There are several imaging diagnostic techniques using biochemistry for laboratory analysis. But we don’t know, for example, if it would not be possible to have more precise or earlier diagnoses using still unknown tools that will come from the use of quantum sensors.

    40 years ago, it was unimaginable for people to have access to MRI scans, which use an external electromagnetic field to manipulate spins in the human body. It may be that, in 30 years, we will have other forms of diagnosis that allow doctors to pass a sensor on the patient and make a diagnosis, as we see today in science fiction movies”, he says.

    One issue raised by the neuroscientist at the meeting is the importance of Quantum Biology to allow the understanding of natural phenomena in greater depth. “Quantum biology makes it possible to understand that photosynthesis, animal migration, the functioning of mitochondria and other processes have elements influenced by nanoscale physics. It is a motivation for those who work with science to understand how nature really articulates itself”, he concludes.

    Click here to watch the videos of the lectures.


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