College of Psychology: Faculty Articles

Title

The feasibility of coherent energy transfer in microtubules

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-17-2014

Keywords

energy transfer, quantum biology, optical spectra, microtubule, structure-based simulation

Publication Title

Journal of The Royal Society Interface

ISSN

1742-5689

Volume

11

Issue/No.

100

Abstract

It was once purported that biological systems were far too ‘warm and wet’ to support quantum phenomena mainly owing to thermal effects disrupting quantum coherence. However, recent experimental results and theoretical analyses have shown that thermal energy may assist, rather than disrupt, quantum coherent transport, especially in the ‘dry’ hydrophobic interiors of biomolecules. Specifically, evidence has been accumulating for the necessary involvement of quantum coherent energy transfer between uniquely arranged chromophores in light harvesting photosynthetic complexes. The ‘tubulin’ subunit proteins, which comprise microtubules, also possess a distinct architecture of chromophores, namely aromatic amino acids, including tryptophan. The geometry and dipolar properties of these aromatics are similar to those found in photosynthetic units indicating that tubulin may support coherent energy transfer. Tubulin aggregated into microtubule geometric lattices may support such energy transfer, which could be important for biological signalling and communication essential to living processes. Here, we perform a computational investigation of energy transfer between chromophoric amino acids in tubulin via dipole excitations coupled to the surrounding thermal environment. We present the spatial structure and energetic properties of the tryptophan residues in the microtubule constituent protein tubulin. Plausibility arguments for the conditions favouring a quantum mechanism of signal propagation along a microtubule are provided. Overall, we find that coherent energy transfer in tubulin and microtubules is biologically feasible.

DOI

10.1098/rsif.2014.0677