One of the great surprises of the twentieth century was the discovery of a universe driven by electric currents and punctuated by cosmic violence –from atomic particles to the largest galactic formations, a web of circuitry connects all of nature, organizing galaxies, energizing stars, giving birth to planets and, on our blue planet, controlling weather and biological organisms.
There’s a low frequency electrical hum, new research shows, existing in our planet’s living creatures from microbes to humans–“from zooplankton in the oceans to sharks and even in our brains—that’s very similar to the electrical fields we measure and study in the atmosphere from global lightning activity,” said Colin Price, lead author of a study from the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, Israel, about findings that 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.
This electrical activity that can be observed in the nervous system in vertebrates and invertebrates that occurs at extremely low frequencies, with a maximum of 50 hertz (Hz.) These low frequency electrical signals travel throughout different species controlling all manner of biological functions regardless of differences in brain size and complexity.
The reasons for why organisms exhibit characteristic extremely low frequency electrical activity similar to electrical activity in the atmosphere remains a mystery, a gap in our knowledge say the researchers. “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.”
The team led by Price, who’s main field of research deals with global lightning activity, and the connections between biological systems and low frequency atmospheric electricity, 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.
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.”
“We hypothesize that over evolutionary timescales living organisms adapted and evolved to actually use the electricity in the environment—global lightning,” Price said, noting that his influence was greater in the early stages of evolution when species tended to be relatively simple and primitive.
“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,” Price observed. “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.”
“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.
A serious limitation of the study, concluded Price and colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Alaska, is provide evidence linking the long term exposure to the lightning ELF fields to the electrical activity in biological systems.
“It’s impossible to prove that,” Price 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.”
The Daily Galaxy, Jake Burba, via Eurekalert and Friends of Tel Aviv University
Image credit: With thanks to photographer, Jure Batagelj, Lightning at Sea