The Biology of EMF

A group of ninth graders in Denmark conducted an interesting experiment in plant development—with implications for human health. Like all good science, the experiment began with an observation. The five young women who conducted the experiment observed that when they slept with their cellphones on, they had difficulty concentrating the next day.

Their school didn’t have the resources to do the experiment they wanted to conduct, so they devised a simpler one with the resources at hand. They took plant seeds from a common kind of watercress, put one batch in a room free of wireless radiation and another batch of these same seeds next to the school’s wireless router. The young women had confirmed that the radiation from the router was similar to that of their cellphones.

After 12 weeks of tending both batches of the cress seeds, the students found a dramatic difference: while the radiation-free cress’s grew was luxuriant, much the cress grown next to the wireless router died and the rest languished.

The experiment won the young women a prize, media coverage, and the interest of some scientists—but in Europe. News like this almost never appears in the mainstream US media and if it does the news always includes comments from some physics expert who assures us that the effect couldn’t possibly be the result of the radiation because it is well below the level that could heat a cell and damage it.

It is generally accepted that cellphone and other wireless radiation isn’t strong enough to heat cells and so cannot have any biological effect. By “generally accepted” I mean, of course, what those in authority permit to be said along with those who accept that authority. Deafeningly ignored is our existence as electrical creatures. It makes me wonder: if five Danish ninth graders can figure it out, why can’t the media, experts, and so many Americans?

I was recently taunted by an otherwise intelligent and progressive man about my being electrosensitive. He asked whether I reacted to sunlight, since wireless radiation isn’t even as strong as sunlight—or so he said.

That’s a very common taunt. People who do it think themselves clever because they know a little about physics—but not much about biology. They certainly don’t know as much as the young, prize-winning Danish women. And again I wonder: what’s so frightening about my electrosensitivity that it elicits such meanness?

But to return to the science… Is it true, as my taunter thinks, that it’s just not possible for non-thermal radiation to have a biological effect?

In a recent review article, Martin Pall (Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Medical Sciences at Washington State University) discusses the over 30 years of research on how electromagnetic fields affect animal cells and tissues). From his review, Pall concludes that radiation like that from cellphones and routers has a physiological effect through the disruption of calcium channels in cells. Calcium channels are a principle means for stimulating cells to do things such as make proteins, contract muscles, release hormones, and fire of neurons.

Virtually every cell in your body uses calcium channels to respond to physiological signals. As the name suggests, a calcium channel is a molecule that permits or prevents the passage of a calcium ion from the outside to the inside of a cell. Once inside the cell, the calcium ion stimulates the cell’s chemistry to fire (or misfire) a neuron or contract the muscle of your heart.

The calcium ion does what it does because it is electrically charged, which means that it and its channel respond to electromagnetic fields. So if a field opens the channel, calcium ions flood into the cell and start doing what they do. In fact, one of the earliest pieces of research was about beta-blocker drugs. What the researchers found was that exposure to an electromagnetic field caused an instantaneous and dramatic increase of calcium inside heart muscle cells—and that this was prevented by the application of beta-blockers. Beta-blockers artificially prevent calcium channels from opening thereby preventing heart failure.

Do not infer from this that beta-blocker drugs cure electrosensitivity. They do not and they create a whole host of other problems, among them causing heart failure. But I digress.

What Martin Pall observes is that because the pieces to this puzzle have been researched in different domains, the solution has been in plain sight for 20 years but not recognized until he put the pieces together. When put together, the picture is of an environmental exposure like others that induce oxidative stress causing conditions such as chronic fatigue.

So thinking that exposure to a cellphone or wireless router is like exposure to sunlight is just ignorant and stupid.

To return to the experiment on watercress, plant cells have calcium channels too. So the mechanism for how the wireless router damaged the development of the cress is likely the same as what Martin Pall proposes for animal cells. Which brings this thought: if an environment stunts the growth of plants, why would you put your children in it?




Bohn, M. (2013). Student Science Experiment Finds Plants Won’t Grow Near Wi-fi Router. Mother Nature Network. Retrieved from

Fawcett, J. (2010). Care for Chronic Fatigue. Health Bites. Retrieved from

Pall, M. L. (2013). Electromagnetic fields act via activation of voltage-gated calcium channels to produce beneficial or adverse effects. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, n/a-n/a.

White, P. J. (2000). Calcium channels in higher plants. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Biomembranes, 1465(1–2), 171-189.