Why Vermont Photonics is organizing this conference

The purpose of this statement is to describe our motivation for organizing the Conference on The Physics, Chemistry and Biology of Water. 

Vermont Photonics is operating two, prototype THz (terahertz or far-infrared) lasers. Of particular interest to Vermont Photonics is the intriguing idea that biological systems in the living state (hydrated) may take advantage of the THz resonances that are supported by proteins and DNA. This conference is intended to pick up where the 2004 Gordon Research Conference chaired by Dr. Gerald Pollack left off. (http://www.grc.uri.edu/programs/2004/intwater.htm).

This 2004 Gordon Research Conference was a significant event that greatly advanced the idea of the importance of the resonant dynamics of water and proteins in the living state, and a 2006 Gordon Research Conference on current developments in the field was being organized, not by Dr. Pollack, but another interested researcher.  Unfortunately, this proposed 2006 conference was not organized in time to meet the Gordon Research Conference schedule for 2006 and had to be cancelled, causing much disappointment to many interested persons.

In discussions with Dr. Pollack, it was agreed that Vermont Photonics would sponsor and provide administration for the 2006 conference and Dr. Pollack would act as conference chair, recruiting speakers and setting the agenda.

In the text below, I have tried to relate the many different threads that form a web of increasing scientific interest in the role of water in the living state. There are a couple of links to websites in the document below, and many links to pdf files which are on our website.

Michael Mross, Ph.D.
Vermont Photonics Technologies Corp.
33 Bridge Street
P.O. Box 516
Bellows Falls, Vermont 05101
Tel 802 460 1790
Fax 802 460 1796
mailto:mmross@vermontphotonics.com
website/Optical Test:  www.vermontphotonics.com
website/Terahertz:      www.vermontphotonics.net

Researchers from many disciplines have become interested in the role of structured water in the living state.  Many of the basic ideas establishing this field are described in the monograph, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life A New, Unifying Approach to Cell Function, Gerald H. Pollack, Ebner, Seattle, 2001. 319 pp.  ISBN 0-9626895-2-1.  [An informative review of the book was published in Science Magazine.]

In this book, Pollack has drawn heavily on the work of Gilbert Ling to develop a picture of how water in the cytoplasm is more properly seen as a dynamic, structured medium that is part of the machinery, rather than just as a solvent in which the machinery of life exists. Gilbert Ling has continued to do research in this area for the past 20 years, even after his espousal of these ideas in the 1980's caused him to become ostracized from the federally supported cell biological research community.

We believe that the ostracism suffered by Ling may be analogous to the experience of the originators of the tectonic plate theory in geophysics. Before tectonic plate theory became widely accepted, its proponents were severely criticized, and even ostracized by supporters of a now discredited geological orthodoxy.

From the point of view of physics, Pollack's work is very welcome as it brings to the forefront a deeper and more persuasive picture of cellular structure and dynamics, and thus provides a sounder basis for further research, than is provided by the "traditional" picture of the cellular environment which does not take into account the collective dynamic effects of water molecules.

The implications of structuring effects in water, in particular when the water molecules are near enough to charged or polar molecules such as proteins to experience the electric field of those charged molecules, are being discussed by researchers all over the world these days. Here are some examples:

Details of the 2006 conference in Brattleboro can be found at this website: http://www.vermontphotonics.net/water_2006/index.html

One of the speakers at the Brattleboro conference was Steve Granick, a material scientist. His paper, Viscosity of Interfacial Water, discusses the changes in physical properties of water near charged surfaces.

Another eminent researcher in this area is Professor Rustum Roy of Penn State. From a materials science perspective, Prof. Roy and his collaborators discuss the huge variety of structures that can and do physically exist in pure water in a recent paper, The Structure Of Liquid Water; Novel Insights From Materials Research; Potential Relevance To Homeopathy. As is apparent from the title, the authors relate their findings to the current debate about the possible existence  of so-called "homeopathic" water solutions.

The fact that water can be structured in different ways near charged surfaces seems to be well established. The question of whether the structuring of water in the presence of biomolecules has any functional significance is a closely related but separate matter. Pollack and Ling and many others believe that this structuring is implicated in function. Dr. Mae-wan Ho's views on this are very interesting.  See her report on new views of the cellular role of water here:  http://www.i-sis.org.uk/WITCRL.php   Dr Ho was one of the  speakers at the 2006 Brattleboro conference.

Now let's consider the resonant structure of the biomolecules themselves. Before 1980, most physicists, if asked, would have opined that biomolecules in water would not be able to support mechanical oscillations of their entire structure. Cursory consideration, based on an incomplete picture of the collective dynamics of water, of the possible movements of large, structurally complicated molecules in their natural water environment would lead one to conclude that vibrational motion of such a system would not be possible. The conventional physical point of view would be that such motion would be over-damped. Instead of "ringing" when perturbed, a protein or a DNA molecule would simply absorb the perturbing energy and stochastically impart it all back to the water molecules surrounding it in a time much less than the period of oscillation. This is to say that the molecule would be overdamped.  It would be like plucking a guitar string immersed in molasses.

In the intervening 25 years it has been shown without a doubt that biomolecules can support resonant (phonon) vibrations when in water, and that the frequency range involved is around 1012 Hz.  [In the 1980¹s, this frequency range was called far infrared, today it is mostly referred to as the terahertz range]. Some of the earliest work done to investigate resonant vibrations in biomolecules was reported in the seminal paper, Investigation of far-infrared vibrational modes in polynucleotides, by J. W. Powell, G. S. Edwards, L. Genzel, F. Kremer, A. Wittlin, W. Kubasek, and W. Peticolas.  Phys. Rev. A. 35, 3929-3939 (1987). Today Glenn (G.S.) Edwards is director of the Free Electron Laser Lab at Duke University and presented an invited talk at the 2006 conference in Brattleboro entitled, Taking Advantage of Relaxation Processes in Water near Biological Surfaces, in which he discussed experimental implications of biological interfacial water.

For other experimental verification that biomolecules can vibrate in this frequency range, see also the 1988 paper by T. Weidlich and S. M. Lindsay, Raman Study of the Low-Frequency Vibrations of Polynucleotides, and the 2001 paper by Xie, et.al., Excited-State Lifetimes of Far-Infrared Collective Modes in Proteins.

Turning to the THz (terahertz) response of interfacial water, we can cite much evidence that clustered or interfacial water is in fact a very active medium in this frequency range.

For example, the work of Mittleman, et. al, shows that clustered water molecules sequestered in a reverse micelle collectively exhibit resonant behavior not present in bulk water. See their paper, Direct Observation of Terahertz Surface Modes in Nanometer-Sized Liquid Water Pools.

Other researchers have recently shown that THz absorption spectroscopy is a useful tool for probing the changes in water structure induced by solutes. See, for example, the paper by Martina Havenith (who gave one of the programmed talks at the 2006 Brattleboro conference), et. al., Solute-induced retardation of water dynamics probed directly by terahertz spectroscopy. See also the paper by Lendl, et.al., Terahertz Pulsed Spectroscopy as a New Tool for Measuring the Structuring Effect of Solutes on Water.

In the paper by Xu, et. al., Probing the collective vibrational dynamics of a protein in liquid water by terahertz absorption spectroscopy, a THz spectroscopic investigation of the dynamics of proteins in the structured water environment is discussed.

Looking at proteins from another point of view, several researchers have surmised that the enzyme action of a protein depends heavily on the dynamics of the protein. See, for example, the two reviews, Enzymes: An integrated view of structure, dynamics and function, and Protein Motions Promote Catalysis, for discussions of the role of protein dynamics in enzyme activity.

A growing body of researchers now agree with Richard Feynman, who once reportedly quipped, "Ševerything that living things do can be understood in terms of the jigglings and wigglings of atoms".  Many researchers are now considering explicitly the role of vibrational motion of biomolecules in the THz frequency range in connection with enzymatic activity and the transfers of energy and matter in the living state.

Hans Frauenfelder participated in much of the original work at the Beckmann Institute at the University of Illinois that promoted the concept of the energy landscape of protein conformational states.  See his seminal 1991 paper, The Energy Landscapes and Motions of Proteins , Dr. Frauenfelder speculates that vibrational dynamics might play a significant role in various protein functions.  More recent work by Frauenfelder, who is now with the Theoretical Biophysics Group at Los Alamos National Lab, treats biophysical dynamics with both protein motions and solvent dynamics taken into account.  See: Slaving: Solvent fluctuations dominate protein dynamics and functions.

Klug, et.al., in their paper, Doming modes and dynamics of model heme compounds, show how far infrared or THz spectroscopy is used to identify the vibrational "doming" mode of heme proteins (hemoglobin, myoglobin), and show how a vibrational transition of conformational state allows such proteins to capture and release their cargo of oxygen or CO.

The idea that the vibrational dynamics of biomolecules play a role in the workings of the living state is originally credited to the late Herbert Fröhlich, one of the pioneers of the theory of superconductivity in solid materials. See his 1975 paper, The extraordinary dielectric properties of biological materials and the action of enzymes.

All of the research threads described above are used by current investigators who have posited related views of how inclusion of vibrational dynamics provides a much more profound understanding of the physics of the living state. Speculations on the role of vibrational motion in neurobiological systems can be found in the paper by Georgiev and Glazebrook, Dissipationless Waves for Information Transfer in Neurobiology ­ Some Implications. The speculative paper by Watterson, ENZYME FUNCTION: RANDOM EVENTS or COHERENT ACTION ?  applies the concept of coherent vibrational dynamics to enzyme function.

In 2004, the federal agencies, DOE, NIH and NSF, held a joint workshop on opportunities in THz science.  In light of the above, it is worth reading Section 6.3 (Biology) of the report of this workshop which contains a summary of the current relevant views of the attendees to this conference.

In summation, Vermont Photonics organized the 1st and 2nd Annual Conferences on the Physics, Chemistry and Biology of Water in order to gather many of the talented and significant researchers in this new field, and promote the exchange of new ideas on the role of structured water in cellular functions, and specifically to lay the groundwork for research that may lead to an understanding of the connection between protein and DNA vibrational dynamics and the special properties of water adjacent to these biomolecules.

The 3rd Annual Conference on the Physics, Chemistry and Biology of Water is scheduled for October 16-19, 2008, and is now being organized.

Michael Mross, Ph.D.
Vermont Photonics Technologies Corp.
33 Bridge Street
P.O. Box 516
Bellows Falls, Vermont 05101
Tel 802 460 1790
Fax 802 460 1796
mailto:mmross@vermontphotonics.com

website/Optical Test:  www.vermontphotonics.com
website/Terahertz:      www.vermontphotonics.net

 

 

© 2003-2007 Vermont Photonics Inc. All Rights Reserved.