The second day of the BioEM2013 opened with tutorial on systems biology. It left me somewhat unsatisfied.
The first talk was bad. I got an impression that it was prepared by relatively novice to the field of systems biology. Searching Pubmed confirmed my “feeling” – presented had no publications related to systems biology. The content of the talk was also giving an impression of being prepared by novice. The clear indication of it was inclusion in the talk of far too many slides with very basic ideas unnecessary for the audience of scientists. It felt like the audience’s general knowledge was badly underestimated. Finally, and unfortunately, the talk was far too long. When presenter came finally to own pilot data on systems biology and EMF the presentation time run out. End result – nothing much.
In contrast, the second presentation was by scientist experienced in certain areas of systems biology with appreciative publication record. Using as examples own research on chemicals speaker presented ways and means how to approach problem of environmental chemicals, and how to find out what diseases could be linked to their presence. As he pointed out himself, transcriptomics approach was somewhat not good enough. The proteomics approach would, in his opinion, produce more useful information.
I fully agree that the proteomics approach, looking at proteins expression and activity, is more useful. No matter what is happening in genome, as long as these changes are not reflected in changes in proteome, the physiology of the cell will remain unaffected. Furthermore, changes in protein activity are essential for changes in cell physiology and these will not be seen in examining transcriptome.
The systems biology tutorial was followed by a plenary session on thermal and non-thermal effects.
The first presentation was a review of the observed effects. It was pointed out that the only established, and replicated in few labs, effects are on the nervous system. Other physiological effects, e.g. on DNA or apoptosis were considered as unreliable, including observations made in two studies from the presenter’s own laboratory. He called them chance findings.
This is prompting an uneasy question – if the authors thought that the effect is a chance finding, then why they published it? Sticking to the rule “publish or perish”? Or are the authors, for whatever reason, post-factum, trying to diminish significance of their own positive findings?
The second presentation in this plenary session was about using heat to remove unwanted cells. The temperatures used were not exceptionally high, +43oC, but the results of such research do not help with the seemingly eternal question of the existence of the non-thermal effects of RF exposures.
However, there was interesting information. It was shown that heating cells at +43oC causes activation of the ERK signaling pathway, followed by the activation of the NADH oxidase and generation of the ROS. This pathway reminded me of the work from Rony Seger who has shown that exposure of cell to cell phone radiation triggers similar events.
In several meetings where Rony presented his data, the dosimetry people complained and claimed that effects might be of thermal nature. I think, however, that there are possible two explanations. One is indeed that the exposure system used by Rony caused heating. However, there is also another explanation possible. Namely, exposure system caused only localized hot-spots that caused activation of temperature-activated pathway (ERK/NADH oxidase/ROS) without increasing the temperature of the whole system. If so, then this could be a mechanism that could explain how non-thermal exposures to RF cause thermal-like effects. It would also suggest that the current temperature related safety standards are invalid. Someone should find out what is happening on dosimetry level in Rony’s exposure set-up to resolve this thermal/non-thermal dilemma.
After the coffee break there were two parallel sessions and I went to the session on in vitro research.
In this session was presented a very interesting study examining whether RF exposure can affect protein conformation. In control experiments protein exposed to thermal stress behaved as expected – unfolded/refolded in accordance with temperature change. However, RF was shown to have no appreciable effect.
This kind of research is very much needed because it might lead to finding of the effect that triggers biological events. However, the model used in this particular study and in few other studies mentioned by the speaker is the used protein model. All studies on the effects of RF on protein conformation used very diluted solutions of proteins where protein-protein interactions were prevented. This is not the situation in real life. In real life inside cells exist the so called protein crowding. It means that there are no empty spaces within cytosol and proteins are in constant contact with other proteins.
Therefore result of experiments using much diluted protein solutions is, independently of the outcome, useless. The authors have exposure system and they should use it to examine more realistic models of protein solutions.