Skip to Content
Uncategorized

How Bacteria Could Generate Radio waves

The notion that bacteria can transmit radio waves is controversial. But physicists now say they know how it could be done

Can bacteria generate radio waves?

On the face of it, this seems an unlikely proposition. Natural sources of radio waves include lightning, stars and pulsars while artificial sources include radar, mobile phones and computers. This is a diverse list. So it’s hard to see what these things might have in common with bacteria that could be responsible for making radio waves.

But today, Allan Widom at Northeastern University in Boston and a few pals, say they’ve worked out how it could be done.

They point out that many types of bacterial DNA take the form of circular loops. So they’ve modelled the behaviour of free electrons moving around such a small loop, pointing out that, as quantum objects, the electrons can take certain energy levels.

Widom and co calculate that the transition frequencies between these energy levels correspond to radio signals broadcast at 0.5, 1 and 1.5 kilohertz. And they point out that exactly this kind of signal has been measured in E Coli bacteria.

Let’s make one thing clear: this is a controversial area of science. The measurements of bacterial radio waves were published in 2009 by Luc Montagnier, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2008 for the discovery of HIV. However, Montagnier is a controversial figure and it’s fair to say that his claims are not accepted by most mainstream biologists.

However, one of the criticisms of the work was that there is no known mechanism by which bacteria can generate radio waves. That criticism may now no longer hold.

That means Widom and co may be able to kickstart more work in this area. It is well known that bacterial and other types of cells use electromagnetic waves at higher frequencies to communicate as well as to send and store energy. If cells can also generate radio waves, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t exploit this avenue too.

More science please!

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1104.3113: Electromagnetic Signals from Bacterial DNA

You can now follow The Physics arXiv Blog on Twitter

Keep Reading

Most Popular

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station
Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station

Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything

Most public health bodies dealing with covid have long since moved on from the idea of surface transmission. China’s didn’t—and that helps it control the narrative about the disease’s origins and danger.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.