Our funded projects:
Background to our funded projects
Photons (light) were an essential component in the origins of life, driving the basic chemistry to generate life’s “essence” – in particular, ultraviolet (UV) (Egel, Lankenau, and Mulkidjanian 2011). Today, 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 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 (the cell’s “powerhouses” which convert food into energy, but also play a central role cellular communication and ageing), 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).
As 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). For instance, Herbert Fröhlich developed a theory that the powerful electromagnetic fields generated by mitochondria could resonate with the cell’s microtubule cytoskeleton and could play an important role in how the cell works and communicates (Srobar 2012). In fact a “Fröhlich condensate” may well have been observed experimentally, suggesting a possible quantum coherent state (Lundholm et al. 2015). Another theory has suggested that mitochondria may be controlling metabolism via their production of biophotons interacting with the 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). All of this suggests that there may well be a close relationship between the mitochondrial generation of electric fields, their production of biophotons, cell function and possible quantum effects.
The underlying premise for studying some natural products is that their molecular structure may well lend itself to modulating the proposed biophotonic/Fröhlich signalling mechanisms mentioned above. This is because well described medicinal compounds, such as salicylic acid or 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. The same structural component also means that they can be involved in redox 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). It has been long thought that one of the primary functions of many plant compounds, in particular, those containing the phenolic moiety, is to act as sunscreens (Cheynier et al. 2013). This all suggests that one way they might be working is to modulate the proposed underlying mitochondrial biophotonic/Fröhlich cellular system, which might be indicated to exist because of the role of UV in the origins of life, and the emerging evidence that life may well be using significant quantum effects.