Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Quantum biomechanics, anyone?

Here's some really cool research. WorldChanging reports on a new type of microscope that has been used to observe protien folding related to DNA transcription — in real time. Pretty amazing stuff.

Tackling the Central Dogma with an Optical Trap:

...But this technology can do more than resolve some existing biological questions; it may well kick off entirely new fields of study and application.

'If I look in my crystal ball and see where this is going, I think this blows open the field of single-molecule biophysics,' Block says. [...] Not only are we doing all this with one molecule at 1-angstrom resolution, we're doing it in real time while the molecule is moving at room temperature in an aqueous solution.'

... This new tool enables us to learn how biological mechanisms work at an unmatched scale and resolution, a scale where effects previously only of concern to physicists start to come into play. It could allow us for the first time to explore deeper questions about how we function at the scale of the atom.

Don't expect to "see" single-angstrom resolution imagery or movies from this microscope – not if I understand this correctly. That's not the point. It is able to make real-time measurements of single atoms as they undergo reactions. This promises to unlock much greater understanding of quantum physical phenomena in biological systems. If there are images, I would expect them to be figurative, like the quark images above.

This will take a while to sink into our collective subconscious. But it sure feels like a significant breakthrough in our ability to perceive our phsical world. Very cool.

No comments: