3 of 4 special reports on non-chemical cell communication.
When we add the cell’s endogenous electrodynamic fields into our models about cell dynamics we also change our perspective. This short essay wants to show how this then can affect our understanding and questioning about evolution and self-organization.
Evolutionary biology basically refers to (alterations in) gene transmission. Yet, gene activity is constantly regulated, i.e. the DNA has signal-receptors. This implies that genes are not causes of any biological process or structure per se, but there is a constant interplay between genes and factors regulating their activity. These factors are those signals transmitted through the cytoplasm. The cytoplasm consists mainly of water and in diversity of thousands of molecules. Yet, as a physical component, there is also the totality of electrophysical aspects in cell biology, i.e. endogenous currents (electrons, protons, holes, ions), electrical potentials and electromagnetic fields (from static to high-frequency alternating ones); an autodidactic dive into the topic is possible in due time when the open-access book “Fields of the Cell” goes online (Eds. Fels, Cifra, Scholkmann; Publ.: Research Signpost, 2015; for a short preview read “The formless environment of cells” in AG). The electric dimension of the cells is known to influence gene expression as well as to play an active role in inter- and intracellular communication. Hence, when it comes to sexual or asexual reproduction, a cell goes into the future taking with it the genes, the cytoplasm, and its electric fields. Here the critical question is: What changes these fields, and are such changes stable? As these fields play a governing role in cell dynamics, changes may result in alterations of the government of genes and cell dynamics in general, finally leading to changes in organisms to unknown ends. So, apart from the assumed impact, which the sum of these endogenous electric fields does have on evolutionary processes, they are also an active principle in self-organization.
Biological systems rely on self-organization that is enabled by being a dissipative system which is thermodynamically open and far from thermodynamic equilibrium with the environment. The intriguing question is, how millions of enzymes (the proteom) with their billions of substrate molecules (the metabolom), are organized together with thousands of genes (the genom): in a random manner following from a purely molecule-based theory or governed by endogenous electric fields? Without these fields one has to believe that molecules in sheer incomprehensible numbers and diversity pass at high speeds distances sometimes thousand fold their size and this always accurately, without losses and space conflict! Newton described the invisible forces, e.g. between Moon and Earth not as a metaphysical but physical (i.e. the gravitational) force. Similarly, the sum of endogenous electric fields of the cell is invisible but displays measurable (and reported) effects. We claim that without these fields (i) acting over great distances and (ii) leading polar structures, cellular self-organization not only is not thinkable but also cannot happen.
Why then does a purely molecule based science work at all? Whether endogenous electric fields are included in our hypotheses or not makes two basic differences. One is that we may believe that random processes of molecules are the sole cause for the result even though the fields played the decisive role (we refer to in vivo experiments). The other is that questions directly concerning the action of cell-internal electric fields are not posed or only by a few. Certainly, chemical signalling exists within cells and among cells or organisms. But the future will tell us, whether (some of the) effects that were suggested to be due to chemical signals, were in fact caused by aspects of the fields of the cell (read e.g.: Farhadi A, Non-Chemical Distant Cellular Interactions as a potential confounder of cell biology experiments, in: Frontiers in Physiology, 2014).
The major hypothesis shortly presented in this essay is that the totality of cell internal polar molecules, ions, static and dynamic electric fields build a field that feeds back onto these sources
creating a system that is (i) governed by reciprocal causality, (ii) self-organized, and (iii) evolving.
Dr. Daniel Fels
University of Basel