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No. 137: SEP-OCT 2001

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Unexpected Signals Within Life Forms

Multicellular organisms are information networks. They have to be because life is conferred by the flow of information. We all learn how the nervous system carries a heavy traffic of electrical signals, but we hear less about chemical signals, and they are more important. Chemical signalling molecules help cells learn what is going on around them so that they can make decisions concerning metabolism, division, and even whether to die not not. This is mainstream biochemistry, although there is much here yet to be learned. A signalling medium that still survives well off the mainstream is the old idea that information is carried from cell to cell via electromagnetic radiation.

Yes, we mean mitogenetic radiation--the infamous M-rays of the 1920s and 1930s. During this period about a thousand technical papers were published on mitogenetic radiation -- mostly in Russian. The champion of mitogenetic radiation was A.G. Gurwitsch. He claimed that fundamental biological functions, such as cell division, were communicated via ultraviolet light. Although a few other researchers said they detected mitogenetic radiation, most could not replicate Gurwitsch's work. Mitogenetic radiation was thereafter subjected to the "cold-fusion" treatment; it was one of those things that "wasn't so"!

In a recent article in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, R. Van Wijk tries to reignite interest in "bio-photons" that carry "bio-information." First, he assures us that mitogenetic radiation is real, that bio-photons truly exist. To thus swim against the scientific mainstream, he reviews recent experiments and provides us with a huge bibliography. Apparently, mitogenetic radiation is not "pathological science," as physicist I. Langmuir called it back in 1953. Second, Van Wijk advances some mechanisms by which cells can generate bio-photons via their metabolic and enzymatic processes. Finally, he comes to the crux of the matter: Do biophotons really transmit information to neighboring cells and thereby affect their functions? Bolstering his claims, Van Wijk cites confirming modern experiments with seeds, neotrophil cells, dinoflagellates, and fireflies. (Fireflies employ bio-photons internally in addition to their external flashes.)

(Van Wijk, R.; "Bio-Photons and BioCommunication," Journal of Scientific Exploration, 15:183, 2001.)

Comments. Most of Van Wijk's references are European. He was apparently unaware of V.B. Shirley's positive review of the subject in a 1990 issue of Physics Today. (See SF#73 for our digest.) For a mainstream review of the complexities of intercell chemical signalling, see: Downward, Julian; "The Ins and Outs of Signalling," Nature, 411: 759, 2001.

From Science Frontiers #137, SEP-OCT 2001. 2001 William R. Corliss

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