This book contains two startling ideas: the first, a radical hypothesis about evolution, challenges both NeoDarwinism and Intelligent Design; the second is a novel theory about consciousness. Of the two, I remain unsold on his hypothesis about evolution, but I'm hooked on his theory of consciousness.
McFadden is a professor of molecuar genetics in the UK. His professional background is substantial, and he is a leader in an effort to develop a vaccine for meningitis. He also writes occasionally in The Guardian, which is not necessarily an impressive qualification given some of the far-out pieces published by that prestigious newspaper, but this piece of his on genetically modified organisms shows a lot of common sense.
The form and dynamics of every living organism on this planet is controlled by a single molecule of DNA. Recent experiments suggest that size alone is not a bar to quantum behaviour. A group based in Vienna have recently fired fullerene molecules through the double slit experiment and demonstrated that these particles have no problem in sailing through both slits simultaneously. And fullerene is big - 60 carbon atoms in a cage-like structure, the famous "buckyball" molecule - with a diameter similar to that of the DNA double helix. If fullerene can enter the quantum multiverse then the microscopic constituents of our own cells, including DNA, are in there as well.
He notes that a common source of genetic mutations is the the result of tautomers, a change in one of the hydrogen bonds of a DNA base, as a result of quantum effects, which allows a DNA base to bond with another base with which it is not usually paired. These occur in roughly .01% of DNA pairs, and if not detected by the cells DNA proofreading mechanisms, lead to transcription errors and mutation.
McFadden then refers to the work of Harvard researcher John Cairns, which suggests that mutations may not be strictly random, but may in some cases occur more frequently when a cell is stressed, and needs to mutate in order to survive. Cairns experiments have been reproduced, but there is still some debate about their interpretation. It does provide a possible mechanism for increasing the frequency of mutations that are adaptive rather than destructive.