Background to our funded projects
The Guy Foundation has a long history of interest in the role that bioenergetics play in health and disease. More specifically, bioenergetics refers to the harnessing, transformation and production of energy in biological systems. The mitochondrion, the so-called power station of the cell, produces adenine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that provides energy for many integral cellular processes. The production of ATP in mitochondria relies on the movement of electrons through electron transfer chains to generate a proton gradient across mitochondrial membranes. This proton gradient in turn drives the production of ATP through the action of the enzyme ATPase. In addition to their central role in cellular energetics, it is becoming clearer that mitochondria play an important role in biological signalling processes as well as ageing and disease. The Guy Foundation’s programme thus aims to widen the scope of mitochondrial and related biological research.
The Foundation’s sustained interest in the medicinal effects of natural compounds intersects with quantum biological research given the photoactive status of many of these compounds. The interaction of photons with matter can be described using quantum principles, it is fascinating that there is building evidence to support long held beliefs that organisms may well be using significant quantum effects, which is encompassed by the field of quantum biology (McFadden and Al-Khalili 2018). Salicylic acid, cannabidiol, and even resveratrol, all share the ability to modulate mitochondrial function, but critically, also, because of their structure, have the ability to absorb light in the ultraviolet range, and thus have the ability to act as sunscreens (Cheynier et al. 2013). The same structural component also means that they can be involved in redox – electron transfer – reactions, which might explain some of their other properties, including acting as anti-oxidants, and possibly, their shared ability to inhibit bacterial growth, as well as inhibiting cancer growth (Nunn et al., submitted 2019). The role of electromagnetic radiation – light – in biological systems is of emerging interest, this is despite the fact that it is close to a century since Gurwitsch recorded low intensity photon emission from onion root cells.
Photons – in particular those in the ultraviolet (UV) range of the spectrum – have been proposed to be a possible component in the origins of life, driving the basic chemistry necessary for life (Egel, Lankenau, and Mulkidjanian 2011). Light is essential for life on earth as it provides energy for photosynthesis in plants, but is also central, for many organisms, in how they communicate, detect and adapt to their environment. It now appears that most organisms also generate very low intensity “biophotons” during metabolism (Cifra and Pospisil 2014; Popp 2003). Although biophotons are not visible to the naked eye, they can be measured with very sensitive instruments. As many essential structures and chemicals within cells are sensitive to light, including DNA and components of mitochondria, it raises the question – do cells use these biophotons to communicate and modulate their own metabolism and that of others? There is indeed evidence that suggests that cells can influence each other using biophotons – for instance, it now appears that stressed cells can communicate via UV light with other cells (the so called “bystander effect”) (Le et al. 2018). It has also been suggested that mitochondrial metabolism might involve the production of biophotons that interact with microtubules, with the latter acting as optical waveguides (Rahnama et al. 2011). Disruption of these biophoton networks could be an important factor in diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, in particular, during oxidative stress – which seems to induce the production of biophotons (Kurian, Obisesan, and Craddock 2017). Electromagnetic effects might also be mediated by “Fröhlich condensates” and could play an important role in how cells function and communicate (Srobar 2012). In fact, a “Fröhlich condensate” may well have been observed experimentally, suggesting a possible quantum coherent state (Lundholm et al. 2015).
In addition to investigating the role that electromagnetic radiation may play in biological systems, The Guy Foundation is interested in the profound effects that electric fields have on biological tissue. Electrochemical gradients are central to many cellular processes, not least the efficient function of the nervous system. Proton gradients across mitochondrial membranes drive the ATPase mediated generation of ATP, while membrane embedded ion channels control the flow of specific ions into and out of the cell. While the role of the genetic code is widely accepted as a mechanism for storing biological information, this focus on genes has to some extent stalled research into how endogenous bioelectric fields might allow for biological information processing, specifically in determining morphogenesis, or the development of shape in living organisms.