Scientists Just Replicated Darwinian Evolution At A Quantum Level That Could Reveal The Origin Of Life On Earth

Monday, 08 October 2018 - 12:53PM
Technology
Monday, 08 October 2018 - 12:53PM
Scientists Just Replicated Darwinian Evolution At A Quantum Level That Could Reveal The Origin Of Life On Earth
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Modeling the birth, growth, and death of cells with computers is a tradition that goes all the way back to "Conway's Game of Life," a simple program that made its debut in 1970. Conway's 'game' reduced life to 2 bits and some blocky pixels, and now, almost 50 years later, researchers from the University of Basque, Spain, are doing something similar with quantum computers... Although the central idea behind this new research is infinitely more complex than anything Conway could have imagined.

The research from the University of Basque models the development and interactions of a miniature lifeform simulated by two qubits in IBM's five-bit QX4 quantum computer. While normal computers have several magnitudes more computing power than the QX-4 (most computers are 64-bit), a quantum computer is special. Apart from the regular 0 and 1 states, a qubit has a third potential state that's somewhere in between. In addition, its individual bits can become "entangled" – meaning that any change in one bit will be reflected in the other.



So what does this have to do with life? Well, one of the things that makes quantum mechanics so frustrating is that its operations only seem to work on the micro level of existence – it affects electrons and atoms, but not refrigerators. This phenomenon raises some interesting questions: if life arises from tiny bits of matter, does quantum mechanics have a role in that emergence? Is quantum mechanics the missing dimension to biology that can explain seemingly intangible things like consciousness? 

To dig into these types of questions, the researchers created a model for their two-qubit lifeforms that simulated birth, reproduction, mutation, aging, and other processes essential to life. One of the qubits was treated as the lifeform's genotype (its genetic characteristics) and the other was treated as its phenotype (physical characteristics). From there, the miniature lifeforms reproduced over and over again, exchanging and changing their "genetic" information.

According to the researchers: "The goal of the proposed model is to reproduce the characteristic processes of Darwinian evolution, adapted to the language of quantum algorithms and quantum computing...We leave open the question whether the origin of life is genuinely quantum mechanical. What we prove here is that microscopic quantum systems can efficiently encode quantum features and biological behaviours, usually associated with living systems and natural selection."

Though the questions of life's origins and nature are still unanswered, this research may be the first step in discovering whether it's tied up with the operations of quantum mechanics.
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