There are many ways that cells can communicate with neighbouring cells but what about cells with which they have no physical contact?
A mounting body of evidence suggests that this is in fact possible and that it can affect not just the individual cells but the behaviour of an entire organism.
The exact mechanisms by which this happens are not known but suggestions include:
- Chemical interaction (ruled out in most cases)
- Ultra weak electromagnetic signalling (bio-photons)
- Acoustic vibrations
- Other (unspecified)
The signals appear to be so weak as to be almost impossible to measure and many experiments are difficult to reproduce. The strength of the effect sometimes shows seasonal and latitudinal variation and it has been suggested that since human bodies emit bio-photons, even the presence of the experimenter could be a confounding factor in results.
Alexander Gurwitsch (1874–1954) was the first to demonstrate what he called mitogenic radiation when he placed two onion roots close together but separated by a sheet of quartz. One onion root seemed to promote growth in the other but the effect vanished when the quartz was replaced by glass, thereby suggesting ultra-violet light as a signalling mechanism.
Experiments are always set up with one group of cells as an inducer of the effect and another as a receiver, with the inducer and receiver being kept apart physically and by some sort of separator. Quartz separators will permit ultra-violet light to pass through but glass separators will not. Metallic separators can similarly determine the success or failure of the experiment.
Vlail Kaznacheev used as an inducer, a cell culture that had developed a cytopathic effect owing to poisoning with mercury chloride. A similar cytopathic effect was seen in the receiver when a quartz separator was used but not a glass separator.
Kaznacheev also used a coxsackie ‘virus’ culture as a pathogen and obtained a similar transmission of a cytopathic effect from one sealed container to another .The effect again vanished when a glass separator was used.
Ultra-violet light is therefore suspected, bur see Concerns at the end of the page.
Seasonal influence. The effect was at its strongest in the summer months, at its weakest in mid-winter and was affected by solar activity. Results were furthermore shown to be dependent upon the latitude of the laboratory, indicating a possible link to the Earth’s magnetic field.
Guenter Albrecht-Buehler found that cells in one place could copy the physical orientation of those in a distant culture. The information could pass through glass but was prevented by a by a thin metallic coating on the containers so again, electromagnetic signalling is suspected.
The electromagnetic signals are so weak that it doesn’t seem correct to think of them doing direct damage to the cells or physically moving them around, rather that these signals are somehow disrupting the organisation of the cell in the case of the Kaznacheev experiments, or in the case of cellular orientation, the signals contain sufficient information for the cells themselves to interpret this and behave accordingly. Albrecht-Buehler has described this as a primitive form of cellular ‘vision’.
The radiation-induced bystander effect is the phenomenon in which unirradiated cells exhibit irradiated effects as a result of signals received from nearby irradiated cells. Wikipedia
The effect has been seen on not only cells but entire organisms.
Rainbow trout were exposed to low doses of ionising radiation and then placed in a tank with other healthy fish for two hours after which they were killed and dissected. The organs showed damage typical of exposure to ionising radiation even though no such exposure had taken place. A chemical messenger in the water is suggested as the mechanism in the paper but photon signalling was not ruled out. – Mothersill et al.
This is of concern in radiotherapy treatments for cancer where irradiation of a tumour could result in the surrounding tissue showing adverse effects. The effect could even pass to other people for example nurses or family members.
Coherence. Budagovsky et al. found that whole human blood could be used to stimulate the germination of radish seeds using a quartz separator. The effect was reduced however if the cuvette was frosted as opposed to clear. The inference was that the bio-photons form a coherent (phase ordered) signalling field which is disrupted by the frosting.
- Beloussov et al. demonstrated interactions of fish eggs and embryos via UPE
- Jaffe discovered that marine plants polarize the growth of distant fucus eggs by means of UPE up to distances of at least 10 mm
- Galle et al found that UPE had an effect on the population density of fruit flies
- Callahan wondered how insects could be attracted to each other over long ranges and hypothesised that certain insect exoskeleton structures serve as antenna for infra-red radiation emitted by excited attractant molecules.
- Burlakov found that light from older fish embryos could retard the growth of younger specimens when a quartz separator was used
“Becker was another scientist that worked on the role of EMF in insect biology. He showed that the behaviour of insects such as termites is dependent on mutual EMF interactions during gallery building. In his numerous experiments, termites acted differently when colonies were separated by an aluminium plate compared to non-conductive plates. These behavioural changes were observed across different species of termites, suggestive of trans-species communication” – Cifra et al
Control experiments. Given that tissue cultures are affected by ultra weak photon emission (UPE) we must now consider the actual experimenter as a source of such photons. Furthermore, in the case of control experiments we should take care that samples are not placed too near to each other in a laboratory lest transmission between them add an extra confounding factor.
For tissue culture experiments to be valid they should control for all possible biological sources of UPE along with geomagnetic variations, solar activity and latitude along with EMF from outside or within the laboratory including mobile phones, the laboratory apparatus and lighting system.
Because of the behaviour with glass and quartz separators and because of the measured presence of weak ultra-violet there has grown an assumption that these effects are caused by such photons in specific cases and other wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation in general.
This phenomenon has earned the term Ultra Weak Photon Emission (UPE) with individual photons being referred to as bio-photons. The strength of this ultra weak radiation has been compared to a single candle at a distance of over ten miles away!
The idea of ‘coherence’ has been proposed as a possible way of detecting such a field but even so, the strength of environmental noise in the form of sunlight etc. is many millions of times that of the signal. So how does the organism separate signal from noise?.
We are left then with lots of experiments suggesting this mechanism whilst at the same time theoretical concerns seem to make it highly unlikely. Michal Cifra has suggested the exploration of alternative mechanisms, pointing out that there has been no serious consideration of the effects of ultrasonic acoustic waves.
Electromagnetic cellular interactions
Authors: Michal Cifra, Jeremy Z Fields, Ashkan Farhadi
Non-chemical and non-contact cell-to-cell communication: a short review
Authors: Felix Scholkmann, Daniel Fels, Michal Cifra
Non-Chemical Distant Cellular Interactions as a potential confounder of cell biology experiments – Ashkan Farhadi
Speculations about bystander and biophotons: Charles L. Sanders
Bystander effect (radiobiology) – Wikipedia
“The demonstration of a bystander effect in 3D human tissues and, more recently, in whole organisms have clear implication of the potential relevance of the non-targeted response to human health.”
Communication of Radiation-Induced Stress or Bystander Signals between Fish in Vivo – Carmel Mothersill et al
Cell-to-cell signalling through light: just a ghost of chance?
Authors: Micha Cifra, Ondřej Kučera