Quantum tunnelling is a phenomenon which becomes relevant at the nanoscale and below. It is a paradox from the classical point of view as it enables elementary particles and atoms to permeate an energetic barrier without the need for sufficient energy to overcome it. Tunnelling might seem to be an exotic process only important for special physical effects and applications such as the Tunnel Diode, Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (electron tunnelling) or Near-field Optical Microscopy operating in photon tunnelling mode. However, this review demonstrates that tunnelling can do far more, being of vital importance for life: physical and chemical processes which are crucial in theories about the origin and evolution of life can be traced directly back to the effects of quantum tunnelling. These processes include the chemical evolution in stellar interiors and within the cold interstellar medium, prebiotic chemistry in the atmosphere and subsurface of planetary bodies, planetary habitability via insolation and geothermal heat as well as the function of biomolecular nanomachines. This review shows that quantum tunnelling has many highly important implications to the field of molecular and biological evolution, prebiotic chemistry and astrobiology.
Keywords: Biomolecular nanomachines, Interstellar, Life, Nucleosynthesis, Planetary habitability, Prebiotic, quantum tunnelling, Radioactive decay.