Science News

Curated by RSF Research Staff

Do cells have exotic vibrational properties?

Microtubules are often in the spotlight. Such attention is not unwarranted; indeed microtubules have remarkable properties, like coherent vibrational modes and quantum resonance, electrical conduction, potential quantum computation, luminescence and potential biolasing -- as well as occupying a central role in cellular morphology, locomotion, mitosis, communication, and intracellular transport.

Now, a team of researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Yeshiva University have proposed that microtubules may have a remarkable property in which energy is stored at their surface in topological phonon edges. This is similar to the unusual properties of topological insulators, in which there are short-range quantum entanglement of topological states, observed in some classes of superconductors.

If such a property is observed and verified experimentally it would be another example of non-classical, quantum mechanical behavior of the molecular nanomachinery of the cell.

The research team believes that such topological phonon states at the microtubule's edges may play a significant role in their functionality, controlling, for instance, the behavior known as dynamical instability, which is what allows microtubules to be so versatile and essential in cellular functions. This may present a method to target neoplasms, as cancer cells often divide abnormally by subverting the normal function of microtubules.

Biomimicry provides some of the most advanced technological breakthroughs -- nearly all of molecular biology, used to produce DNA fingerprints, edit and engineer genomes, reverse genetic diseases, produce cures and vaccines, etc... are living nanotechnology taken directly from biological organisms. This utilization by organisms of some of the most remarkable and advanced properties of physical matter is because over billions of years of experimentation and development, nature has produced some pretty clever adaptations.

As such, it may be possible to reverse engineer the behavior of the microtubules to produce synthetic materials with the remarkable properties hypothesized by the research team:

"Working with nanotechnology experts at NJIT, Reginald Farrow, research professor of physics, and Alokik Kanwal, assistant research professor, the research team hopes to provide the first experimental verification of the key role that these topological phonons play in many fundamental cellular processes, including cell division and movement.

In addition, based on the results of their study of microtubules and topological phonon edge modes, the research team will seek to predict and fabricate a new class of called topological phononic crystals, with applications ranging from energy-efficient solar cells, to sound deadening and amplification, to insulation."


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Report by: William Brown

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