Electrical Activity Inside Humans and Other Animals Is Eerily Similar to Electrical Fields in the Atmosphere

The electrical activity inside humans and other animals is eerily similar to the electrical fields observed in the Earth's atmosphere, according to a team of researchers.

In a study published in the journal International Journal of Biometeorology, the scientists say they have found a link between atmospheric electric fields and electrical activity seen in many different living creatures on our planet.

"We show that the electrical activity in many living organisms—from zooplankton in the oceans to sharks and even in our brains—is very similar to the electrical fields we measure and study in the atmosphere from global lightning activity," Colin Price, lead author of the study from the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, Israel, said in a statement.

In animals, electrical activity can be observed in the nervous system. These electrical signals travel throughout the body controlling all manner of biological functions. Most of this electrical activity in vertebrates and invertebrates occurs at extremely low frequencies, with a maximum of 50 hertz (Hz.)

The fact that many different types of species display similar low frequency activity, irrespective of differences in brain size and complexity, is surprising, the researchers say.

However, the reasons for why organisms exhibit characteristic extremely low frequency electrical activity has long remained a mystery. Furthermore, it is not clear why this electrical activity displays similarities to electrical activity in the atmosphere.

"Neither biologists nor doctors can explain why the frequencies in living organisms (0-50 Hz) are similar to those in the atmosphere caused by lightning," Price said. "Most of them are not even aware of the similarity we presented in our paper."

There have been relatively few studies on the origin of the low frequency electrical activity. And so the authors wanted to address this gap in our knowledge with their latest study.

To do this, they conducted a review of previous studies looking into the link between extremely low frequency (ELF) electric fields in the atmosphere—radio waves with frequencies ranging from 3 to 30 Hz that are generated by lightning and natural disturbances in Earth's magnetic field— and the health of animals, including humans.

"ELF stands for extremely low frequency (ELF) waves, and they are defined by their frequency or wavelength," Price told Newsweek. "We are interested in the NATURAL ELF fields in the atmosphere, and these come primarily from lightning discharges."

He continued: "I have been studying these ELF fields for the last 25 years. But fairly soon after entering this field, I came across some studies that showed the similarity between the ELF fields from lightning in the atmosphere and the ELF activity in various living organisms, including the alpha, beta, ...rhythms in our brains. Was this simply coincidence? And why are the biological fields at the very same frequencies?"

The researchers collected a number of studies—including one of their own published in 2019—finding fairly strong evidence from different researchers, and different fields, that the atmospheric ELF fields do have an impact on organisms, from heart cells of rats to the biological clocks in humans.

In light of their review, the researchers propose that over billions of years, as organisms evolved on Earth, the natural electromagnetic frequencies in the atmosphere generated by lightning activity significantly influenced the development of electrical activity in biological cells. They say it is likely that this influence was greater in the early stages of evolution when species tended to be relatively simple and primitive.

Stock image: Lightning over the city of Tucson, Arizona. iStock

"We hypothesize that over evolutionary timescales living organisms adapted and evolved to actually use the electricity in the environment—global lightning," Price said.

"This has likely not changed over billions of years and is similar to the evolution of our eyes, which evolved using the sunlight nature gave us.

"We—and the vast majority of living organisms—see in the visible part of the spectrum. We cannot see in the thermal or ultraviolet or X-ray, only the very narrow visible part of the spectrum.

"Why? Because that is what nature (the sun) gave us over billions of years. Lifeforms evolved—first in the oceans and later on land—using the solar radiation available. Hence, our eyes evolved to see in the visible part of the spectrum."

According to the authors, the latest results could have implications in the field of medicine, given that diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson's are linked to abnormalities in the electrical activity of the human body.

"Our review of previous studies revealed that lightning-related fields may have positive medical applications related to our biological clock, spinal cord injuries and maybe other bodily functions related to electrical activity in our bodies," Price said.

"The connection between the ever-present electromagnetic fields, between lightning in the atmosphere and human health, may have huge implications in the future for various treatments related to electrical abnormalities in our bodies."

The researchers note that while the studies they reviewed provide evidence that electrical activity in the atmosphere influences biological processes, a physical mechanism to explain the findings is still lacking. Thus more studies need to be conducted into the issue, they say.

According to Price, one limitation of the study is proving the evolutionary theory linking the long term exposure to the lightning ELF fields to the electrical activity in biological systems. "It's impossible to prove that," he said.

"Going forward, we need to design new experiments to see how these extremely low frequency fields from lightning may impact living organisms, and to investigate how these fields can be used to benefit us.

"One new experiment we are now planning is to see how these fields may impact the rate of photosynthesis in plants."

Another limitation is the difficulty in isolating the impact of the lightning ELF fields from all the other noise around us today to study these effects.

"There is so much electromagnetic noise from everything like our phones, computers, microwaves, power lines, etcetera, that it is very difficult to study these effects in controlled environments," Price told Newsweek. "The natural ELF lightning fields are many orders of magnitude weaker than the other fields around us every day."

"How could such a weak field have any effect on biology?" he continued.

"Finally, the biological mechanisms are hugely complicated and unknown. Hence, at the moment we are showing experimental results, but without a clear idea of how to explain these links.

"This is definitely a limitation, but often science advances first by a strange interesting observation, and the theory follows later."

This article was updated to include additional comments from Colin Price.

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