It has been an exciting week for quantum biology enthusiasts, with two separate studies suggesting new ways to leverage quantum principles in life sciences applications.

Researchers from the Quantum Nanophysics Group at the University of Vienna found a “quantum interference in molecules of gramicidin, a natural antibiotic made up of 15 amino acids,” potentially opening a door to a “new era for quantum biology,” according to MIT Technology Review.

A separate paper published in Nature this week also suggested that “the theory of quantum open systems can successfully push forward our theoretical understanding of complex biological systems working close to the quantum/classical boundary.”

This research is the latest in scientific breakthroughs enabling us to better understand and leverage “quantum properties of biomolecules” and “set the scene for experiments that exploit the quantum nature of enzymes, DNA, and perhaps one day simple life forms such as viruses.”

The concept of quantum biology, or the application of quantum principles better known in math and computing to living organisms, has been around since the 1930s. 

PitchBook and Crunchbase databases show that most of the private funding is flowing into quantum physics technologies, the hot new frontier, but the earliest applications of quantum principles was in fact in biology.

“As quantum physics seems too mystical to be relevant to anything as real as a living organism, it might come as a surprise that its first applications have arrived in biology, rather than physics,” Philip Hunter wrote in 2006 in EMBO Reports.

Over the past decade a new generation of startups has popped up all around the world, looking to leverage quantum principles for drug discovery research, imaging and diagnostics.

Companies like Mursla, ChemAlive and others have successfully raised funding, but the rounds tend to be smaller than the total amounts raised by quantum technology-focused startups.

  • In 2017 and 2018, quantum technology-focused startups received at least $450 million in funding, compared with$104 million over the previous two years, according to Nature
  • Qnami, a Switzerland-based startup that produces a quantum microscope, raised $130,000 in 2018.
  • “It’s still in its infancy,” said Jim Al-Khalili of quantum biology in his 2017 TED Talk. Al-Khalili is a quantum physicist and co-author of Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. “But I also think in the next decade or so we’re going to start to see that it pervades life, that life has evolved tricks that utilize the quantum world.”