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Science

Creating a Quantum Superposition of Living Things 321

Posted by kdawson
from the wanted-dead-and-alive dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Having created quantum superpositions of photons, atoms, and even molecules, scientists are currently preparing to do the same for larger objects — namely viruses. The technique will involve storing a virus in a vacuum and then cooling it to its quantum-mechanical ground state in a microcavity. Zapping the virus with a laser then leaves it in a superposition of its ground state and an excited one. That's no easy task, however. The virus will have to survive the vacuum, behave like a dielectric, and appear transparent to the laser light, which would otherwise tear it apart. Now a group of researchers has worked out that several viruses look capable of surviving the superposition process, including the common flu virus and the tobacco mosaic virus. They point out that after creating the superposition, scientists will be able to perform the Schrodinger's Cat experiment for the first time, which should be fun (but less so for the virus)."
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Creating a Quantum Superposition of Living Things

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  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Friday September 11, 2009 @11:37AM (#29389823)

    Oh please. They're self-replicators in the domain of organic chemicals. They take resources from their environment (i.e. DNA), effectively use those resources for self-replication, and manage to do this with just enough random noise for adaptive mutation to occur.
    .
    That's more than I can say of certain slashdotters living in their mother's basements. Are you saying that they're not alive?
    .
    Let the debate begin!

  • by AP31R0N (723649) on Friday September 11, 2009 @11:54AM (#29390075)

    You have a point, most of these azoic creatures never reproduce.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:11PM (#29390273)

    I don't think there's much of a debate. It's common consensus that virii sit on the border being alive. They have most of the traits of what is usually defined as being alive, but they don't have all of them. The technicalities aren't terribly important in any context, including the philosophical one, so nobody really bothers.

  • by Hythlodaeus (411441) on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:13PM (#29390299)

    That's assuming there's objectively such a thing as a world-line. I favor the view that wave functions are the fundamental reality.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:22PM (#29390413)

    Seriously, just re-read your post.

  • Re:Wrong field (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sbillard (568017) on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:23PM (#29390423) Journal
    I could be wrong, but I think the point of the experiment is to learn where and how quantum aspects interface with macro-objects. A virus is much larger than a photon, for example. If they can reproduce "delayed choice" and "quantum eraser" type effects on a virus, then that would really be something.

    It's not a test to see whether something is alive or dead. It's a test to understand if and/or how "which-path" observations collapse the wavefunction for macro-objects,

    IANAP, so please enlighten me if I missed the point.
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:25PM (#29390457) Homepage Journal

    Stop it. Just stop. Don't compare Biology to code. It doesn't work, and only show ignorance in at least one of those, often both.

  • by canajin56 (660655) on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:40PM (#29390615)
    Well, those four points that are really two aren't very good points. They don't deserve any more refutation than they received. The first point, that all biologists are in agreement, is demonstrably false. Citing biologists who call viruses alive is more than sufficient to demonstrate it as such. The next three points are all invalid appeals to Occam's Razor. That is "this way is easier, so it's the truth", which is only a good guideline, and you can only use it if the simplest way accurately represents the way things are. A tree is, unfortunately, too simple to represent phylogeny. Take bacteria, for example. A highly amusing quote on the matter is "Bacteria trade genes more frantically than a pit full of traders...". Viruses help them, but they have other means of transfer. So, any argument that viruses have to be included because of "multiple inheritance" issues must necessarily disqualify bacteria. And actually, even higher forms of life can have genes transfered between them due to recombination. Life isn't a tree. It's a weighted, directed acyclic graph. You need viruses on there in some way or other to represent gene transfers across species boundaries. Depending on your definition of "alive" viruses may or may not be. They self-replicate (with help) but have no metabolism. But they have to be on the "tree" of life, there can be no debate. Another poster has called them "mistletoe" on the tree of life. Fairly apt. They connect branches. Without them on there, your "tree" is wrong.
  • Wikipedia also has an interesting article on semantics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantics [wikipedia.org] .

    Please stop saying "[just|merely|only|nothing but] semantics" in common language, as they are anything but insignificant, by definition.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:54PM (#29390793) Journal

    Or perhaps we just shouldn't make line-in-the-sand definitions. This is nothing new to biology. The question as to what defines a species has been going on for decades, and the reality is that no matter what kind of a "rule" you make, there are exceptions, so you build that into the definition. We now, for the most part, have a fairly reasonable species definition that does also encapsulate phenomena like ring species.

    The same, to my mind, applies to viruses and other highly specialized parasites that require a host. Yes, they do not have every feature that typifies life, but in all cases, they do reproduce and they do evolve.

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Friday September 11, 2009 @01:16PM (#29391013)


    The question of whether viruses are living things is far from clear-cut.

    The question of whether viruses are alive or not is as interesting a question as whether submarines swim. (To steal a phrase for Dijkstra).

    We know what viruses do and don't do. Arguing about whether they're "alive" or not is purely semantics and is not a scientific question at all.

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Friday September 11, 2009 @04:11PM (#29393141) Journal

    Whether something is "life" or not is an anachronistic question. It really had meaning only in the olden days when "life" was this mysteriously animated stuff that possessed some kind of life force.

    In that sense, nothing is alive today, even life, as it's just complicated chemistry.

    Now if people still want to persist for romantic reasons in determining if a virus is "life" or not, I will only point out a quote I read a few years ago: "Biologists no longer argue about whether a virus or a seed is 'alive' ". It's a non-issue. They are what they are and the mechanisms are largely known.

    It's just a half-step from arguing if something has a "soul" or not.

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