Kai’s second year blog: Back to the present

Hello, most excellent readers!

I’m writing this to you from the year of 2015. How sci-fi is that? ‘Back to the Future’ promised me there would be hover boards by now but that’s okay. It’s that time of year when we emerge from our wintery cocoons as better, healthier, stronger, more productive, more studious, more ambitious people!

For the first couple of weeks that is. Before the allure of pizza becomes too overpowering and the release of the new season of House of Cards precipitates a devastating Netflix binge from which your schedule will not recover, am I right or am I right?

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Lofty New Years resolutions aside, I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas, wherever it may have been! Personally I always look forward to going back to Norway to meet up with old friends who are otherwise scattered about the world, to hang out and drink some gløgg (like mulled wine but spicier. And more alcoholic. Yeah.)

And despite what the movie ‘Frozen’ may or may not have lead you to believe, Norway is not always the winter wonderland the marketing material makes it out to be! So while it may not have been a white Christmas (in fact it was rather sunny), I can’t complain about not having to dig my way out the front door using a shovel for a change.

And as a biochemistry student, my parents very thoughtfully got me this book for Christmas called ‘Life of the Edge: the Coming of Age of Quantum Biology’ (so if you haven’t caught on yet this entry will certainly crystallise in your mind what an unapologetic nerd I am).

“Quantum biology, what on earth is that?” you might ask. And if I knew, I would tell you! But what I did grasp is that the premise of the book is that a whole lot of biological processes rely on quantum phenomena. To illustrate this the authors looked to fruit flies, as they so often do. Fruit flies exhibit chemotactic behaviour, where they are prone to moving towards a concentration gradient of chemicals emitted from a food source (such as a delicious rotting pile of fruit, mmm). Of course, in order for that to take place, the general biological understanding is that you need specific odour chemicals to fit into certain receptor proteins in the fly that convert that chemical stimulus to a sensory signal that instructs their teeny fly brains to make them fly towards it.

What they found, however, was that by just replacing one regular hydrogen atom in the odour chemical structure with a heavier one (an isotope), you would still have two chemically identical compounds, yet the flies could actually discriminate between them and fly towards the one with the original isotope! A biochemical phenomena that seemingly transcends biochemistry. The proposed explanation for this related to the ability of quantum particles to act like waves, which gives rise to vibrational differences in the molecule that may affect interaction with the receptor. How about that!

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In a few days I’ll be boarding the plane back to good old Manchester to face exams. Before then I look forward to overindulging a little more, in terms of sugar intake and revision, and would encourage you to do the same!

Yours until further notice,

Kai

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