British scientists have found that enzymes cheat time and space by quantum tunnelling – a much faster way of travelling than the classical way – but whether or not perplexing quantum theories can be applied to the biological world is still hotly debated.
Until now, no one knew just how the enzymes speed up the reactions, which in some cases are up to a staggering million times faster.
“Our research has shown at an atomic level how enzymes act as catalysts,” said Nigel Scrutton, lead researcher at the University of Manchester, whose team published their work in the U.S. journal, Science, on April 14.
Just how these enzymes speed up reaction rates compared with uncatalysed reactions remain controversial among scientists, but such insights of the underpinnings of enzyme behaviour have begun.
“Enzymes are central to the existence of life because most chemical reactions in our cells would take place too slowly or produce a difference outcome without their involvement,” he said.
Without enzymes, we’d wither away or be riddled with disease.
As biological molecules, the enzymes work to lower the energy needed for a reaction to occur. Although enzymes act as catalysts, they are often affected by other molecules. Therefore, when drugs are made, they are designed to act as enzymes inhibitors to stop the reactions from occurring.
“The findings are a radical departure from the traditional view of how they work and might explain why attempts to make artificial enzymes have so far been disappointing,” he said.
But now that researchers know enzymes can quantum tunnel, better drugs can be designed leveraging this knowledge.