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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X018822/1
Title: The quantum avian compass probed on the single molecule level
Principal Investigator: Vollmer, Professor F
Other Investigators:
Kattnig, Dr D R
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Physics and Astronomy
Organisation: University of Exeter
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 November 2022 Ends: 30 April 2024 Value (£): 200,889
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Microsystems Synthetic biology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
21 Jun 2022 New Horizons 2021 Full Proposal Panel Announced
23 Jun 2022 New Horizons Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Panel June 2022 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Magneto-responsive proteins play a key role in neural systems and in the molecular compasses of migrating birds. Two decades ago, a protein called cryptochrome was suggested as a key component of the molecular compass.

The process of conversion between the singlet and triplet state of a cryptochrome protein forms the basis of magneto-sensing in birds. It has a quantum origin, which is evident in the proposed quantum beats of its dynamics. In fact, sensing of the geomagnetic field, six orders of magnitude smaller than the thermal energy, would not be possible in a classical way. To date, there has been no experimental single-molecule study of the quantum beat effect in cryptochrome. We propose to leverage the extreme sensitivity of a state-of-the art optical single-molecule optoplasmonic WGM sensor to resolve such transitions in real-time, and to determine the magneto-sensitive quantum yield of a single cryptochrome protein. We will also probe the influence of environmental electromagnetic radiation on the dynamics and magneto-sensing of cryptochrome.

This study is ground-breaking because it will provide direct proof of the theory of cryptochrome protein acting as the magneto-sensor of the molecular compass. The single molecule measurement will be able to determine the realistic parameters that are needed for the accurate modelling of the molecular compass. Also, contrary to other existing sensors, the molecule will be firmly attached to our sensor, and not randomly distributed in a solution, thereby replicating the condition of cryptochrome attached to a tissue of an animal. This study will also shed light on our understanding the potential influence of environmental electromagnetic pollution on the brain of birds and bees. We will study the influence of the electromagnetic radiation on the performance of the cryptochrome. It has been experimentally observed that the magnetic sensitivity of migrating birds can be disrupted when exposed to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (0.5 to 10 MHz), even if employing miniscule intensities.

"If the bee disappear off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left" -Albert Einstein.

This research will be crucial for preparing the ground for future exploitation of the magneto-sensitive molecular machinery from which synthetic biology can profit, it will contribute to the understanding of complex effects in quantum biology as well as for studies of qubits in quantum computers in the longer term. This study may also lead to fabrication of ultra-compact devices that can be remotely guided by a beam of the electromagnetic radiation. The project will also contribute to understanding of the influence of the electromagnetic pollution on birds, bees and other magneto-sensitive animals.
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Organisation Website: http://www.ex.ac.uk