Does life play dice?

Philip Ball in Chemistry World:

CW0914_Crucible_630m‘Quantum biology’ was always going to be a winning formula. What could be more irresistible than the idea that two of the most mysterious subjects in science – quantum physics and life – are connected? Indeed, you get the third big mystery – consciousness – thrown in for good measure, if you accept the highly controversial suggestion by Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff that quantum behaviour of protein filaments called microtubules is responsible for the computational capability of the human mind.

Chemists might sigh: once again those two attention-grabbers, physics and biology, are appropriating what essentially belongs to chemistry. For the fact is that all of the facets of quantum biology that are so far reasonably established, or at least well grounded in experiment and theory, are chemical ones. The least disputable case, though arguably the most mundane, is enzyme catalysis, where quantum tunnelling enables proton and electron transfer. It also appears beyond doubt that photosynthesis involves transfer of energy from the excited chromophore to the reaction centre in an excitonic wavefunction that maintains a state of quantum coherence. It seems rather staggering to find these quantum phenomena operating in the warm, messy environment of the cell while physicists and engineers still struggle to harness them at cryogenic conditions for quantum computing.
The riskier reaches of quantum biology also address chemical problems: the mechanism of olfaction(proposed to happen by sensing of odorant vibrational spectra using electron tunnelling) and of magnetic direction-sensing in birds (which might involve quantum entanglement of electron spins on free radicals).
Yet it is no quirk of fate that these phenomena are sold as a union of physics and biology, bypassing chemistry. As Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden explain in a forthcoming book, Life on the edge, the first quantum biologists were pioneers of quantum theory: Pascual Jordan, Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrödinger. Bohr was never shy of pushing his view of quantum theory – the Copenhagen interpretation – into fields beyond physics, and his 1932 lecture ‘Light and life’ seems to have been influential in persuading Max Delbrück to turn from physics to genetics – work which later won Delbrück a Nobel prize.
More here.