Electrical activity in animals linked to lightening, researchers find

The link between biological electrical activity and global atmospheric electrical fields holds the potential to be used in a range of medical treatments, researchers at Tel Aviv U have said.

Lightning strikes over the Beit Safafa neighborhood in Jerusalem, Oct. 14, 2019 (photo credit: YOSSI ZE'EVI)
Lightning strikes over the Beit Safafa neighborhood in Jerusalem, Oct. 14, 2019
(photo credit: YOSSI ZE'EVI)
The electrical fields that exist in every living organism are remarkably similar to those found in the atmosphere, researchers at Tel Aviv University have found. They say the discovery could lead to groundbreaking new medical treatments if scientists are able to find a way to manipulate the electricity within us.
Most electrical activity within humans and animals occurs at extremely low frequencies, making it difficult to study. Consequently, very little is understood about the way the body uses the electrical fields that exist within it, or how changes to those fields can influence health.
But Prof. Colin Price of TAU's Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences says his team has made a breakthrough discovery which may challenge conventional thinking on electrical activity which could pave the way for revolutionary techniques to treat conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson's, which are related to abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
By taking a retrospective review of previous studies on the link between global electrical activity in the atmosphere caused by the lightening storms which are continuously occurring somewhere on the planet, and the electrical activity continuously occurring inside animal life, they were able to build a clearer picture on the link between the two.
Colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Alaska also contributed to the study.
"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," Prof. Price said.
"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. Most of them are not even aware of the similarity we presented in our paper."
Price and his team suggested that, as all animals have evolved within an atmosphere which includes global electrical activity, they internalized that activity as part of their natural biological function, in much the same way that the sun's light, being ever present in our world, is used by plants and animals alike. Consequently, the electrical spectrum of some animals is difficult to differentiate from the background atmospheric electric field produced by lightning.
The findings, and the suggestion, were published in February in the International Journal of Biometeorology.
"We hypothesize that over evolutionary timescales living organisms adapted and evolved to actually use the electricity in the environment — global lightning," Prof, 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."
Understanding this link between internal biological electricity and external atmospheric electricity could potentially lead to new medical treatments, Prof. Price says.
"Our review of previous studies revealed that lightning-related fields may have positive medical applications related to our biological clock (circadian rhythms), spinal cord injuries and maybe other bodily functions related to electrical activity in our bodies. 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."
However, more work needs to be done to see how the low frequency global lightening fields impacts living organisms before inroads can be made in how to use that knowledge.
"One new experiment we are now planning is to see how these fields may impact the rate of photosynthesis in plants," Prof. Price said.