Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2014
Recent progress in science and technology has led to the revival of an old question concerning the relevance of quantum effects in biological systems. Indeed Pascual Jordan's 1943 book, Die Physik und das Geheimnis des Lebens had already posed the question “Sind die Gesetze der Atomphysik und Quantenphysik für die Lebensvorgänge von wesentlicher Bedeutung?” (Are the laws of atomic and quantum physics of essential importance for life?) and coined the term Quanten-Biologie (quantum biology). At the time this question was essentially of a theoretical nature as the technology did not yet exist to pursue it in experiment.
Indeed quantum biology has been benefiting considerably from the refinement in experimental tools which is beginning to provide direct access to the observation of quantum dynamics in biological systems. Indeed, we are increasingly gaining sensitivity towards quantum phenomena at short lengths and timescales. In recent years, these newly found technological capabilities have helped to elevate the study of quantum biology from a mainly theoretical endeavour to a field in which theoretical questions, concepts and hypotheses may be tested experimentally and thus verified or disproved. We should stress here that experiments are essential to verify theoretical models because biological systems already have a complexity and structural variety that prevents us from knowing and controlling all of the aspects. Results obtained using these refined experimental techniques lead to new theoretical challenges and thus stimulate the development of novel theoretical approaches. It is this mutually beneficial interplay between experiment and theory that promises accelerated developments within the field.