Scientists to test whether organisms can sense via radio wave frequencies

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Scientists to test whether organisms can sense via radio wave frequencies

December 27, 2017 - 15:31
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Researchers have been tasked to find out whether living organisms have the ability to sense their surroundings using radio wave frequencies.

The ability of brittlestars to use radio frequencies to sense will be tested. Brittle stars or ophiuroids are closely related to starfish. They crawl across the seafloor using their flexible arms for locomotion.

A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego are investigating whether organisms can use radio frequencies to sense their surroundings.

Although there is no evidence of living organisms using radio frequencies to communicate without technology, there are signs that this is a possibility.

According to the project’s lead investigator marine biologist Dimitri Deheyn, from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, researchers in Europe have been able to show that biological cells can produce radio frequencies in the gigahertz range—notwithstanding that the cells had been cultured in petri dishes.

In the course of their research, it was discovered that the brittlestar‘s photocytes (cells that make them produce light) have hair-like structures called cilia that helps cells swim and react to the surrounding environment. According to Deheyn, “It doesn’t make sense for a cell that is embedded in deep tissue to be ciliated but the photocytes in the brittlestar have cilia. Why?”

He suspects that the microtubules—molecular units control the cilia’s movements—form an electromagnetic dipole that emits or receives electromagnetic signals. It is possible that the cells inside brittlestars may be covered in small radio antennae.

To test this possibility, the researchers will place brittlestars in electromagnetically isolated facilities to check if they can detect biological RF emissions.

“For example, we will be working on exposing brittlestars to electromagnetic fields to see if we can trigger light from those cells just by exposing them to a range of electromagnetic fields,” Deheyn said. “This would demonstrate that these cells can actually respond to the signal and would be the first evidence that these signals could be biologically relevant, if they respond to a specific frequency.”

If the researchers can indeed detect biologically active radio frequencies, the implications would be huge. “It’s a difficult problem from both modeling and measurement perspectives, but the biggest challenge will be determining if the electromagnetic effects that we find are purposeful, as opposed to just a side effect of something else,” said UC San Diego Daniel Sievenpiper.

However, he added, "if we find that animals, cells, or even smaller structures within cells can interact through electromagnetic waves, that would open up a whole new field of research.”

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