Day 2 of BioEM2014: something new, something lost, and something old…

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The day was opened with a plenary session on the effects of EMF, natural and man-made on large mammals and insects. Hynek Burda presented a talk on “Making sense of nonsense. The study of magnetic alignment in vertebrates” and Uve Greggers on “Reception and learning of electric fields in bees”. Sensing the earth natural EMF by animals and insects, and its influence on their lives and behavior, is accepted by the science world. However, the possible disruption of it by man-made EMF emitting devices (cell towers, wifi networks, power lines) is understudied and requires more attention. At the stake is not only animals’ behavior. At the stake is the well being of human society. If the omnipresent man-made EMFs introduced to our environment will affect normal life and behavior of insects, birds, mammals, then we might face food shortages, because crops’ pollination activity might be impaired due to EMF-induced “direction-confusion” in insects and birds. It is very good that, at last, BEMS and EBEA decided to have two plenary lectures on this topic. It requires much more attention, and it is not only about animals. In the end, it is about humans’ well being. That was something new for bioelectromagnetics meeting…

One of the morning parallel sessions (session 5) was about EMF-induced genomic instability. This is a well-known phenomenon for ionizing radiation, but it is first time that I see session in bioelectromagnetics meeting (unless I missed something…). The session was opened by study that caught my interest due to certain ‘twist’ in the methodology. The abstract of this study is as follows:

Impact of millimeter waves exposure on cellular response to energetic stress. Denis Habauzit1, Yonis Soubere Mahamoud1, Meziane Aite1, Catherine Martin1, Maxim Zhadobov2, Ronan Sauleau2 & Yves Le Dréan1; 1IRSET, University of Rennes 1, Rennes, France, 35042; 2IETR, University of Rennes 1, Rennes, France, 35042

This study investigated possible additive effects of millimeter-waves (MMW) radiations on cellular response to metabolic stress. 4 groups of primary keratinocytes were included: 1) Sham; 2) MMW exposure at 60 GHz and 20mW/cm²; 3) chemical treatment with 2 deoxy-glucose (2dG); 4) 2dG and MMW co-treatment. DNA microarray analysis was performed. Our results show that MMW do not induce significant modification in gene expression when cells do not experience stress. Comparison between MMW-2dG co-exposure and 2dG treatment alone, followed by RT-PCR validation identified 5 genes differentially expressed.

What is not seen from the abstract is the fact that when gene expression changes were analyzed using statistical correction test, the result was negative. No changes in gene expression. However, when the statistical correction test was omitted, ten genes showed up as affected by the treatment. Confirmation experiments using RT-PCR showed that five of the observed gene expression changes were real and confirmed. This does not give yet assurance that the changes in gene expression will have any impact on cell physiology. The authors should, and hopefully they will, look whether expression and activity of the proteins encoded by the five affected genes is also altered.

However, independently whatever the result of the further study will be, the technical “twist” of omitting the statistical correction test gives us an important lesson.

When gene expression changes are induced by strong stimuli, many genes are affected and statistical corrections might seemingly work, though I am not absolutely certain…

When gene expression changes are induced by weak stimuli, like low level EMF, the gene expression changes are small in both numbers of genes and extent of change in expression level. In such cases the statistical correction tests cause that the small number of weakly affected genes is automatically recognized as false finding. However, this is not correct. As the study has shown, out of 10 genes that were indicated by the statistical correction test as invalid, 5 of them were shown by RT-PCR as real changes.

Automatic application of statistical correction tests might lead to a false indication that EMF exposures have no effect on gene expression. Statistical correction tests need to be used carefully and with great consideration when examining effects of weak stimuli. That was something lost… and found, by forgetting statistics for a moment…

The second day ended with a Discussion Workshop that I prepared and chaired, and also I presented a talk on “Ethical and Conflict of Interest Issues in Bioelectromagnetics”. Talk lasted some 30 minutes and was followed by exciting 30 minutes of discussion. It was apparently a good idea to talk about think that are not talked very often about.

My presentation slides are available here:

Ethical and Conflict of Interest issues in Bioelectromagnetics

Ethical and Conflict of Interest issues in Bioelectromagnetics

And this was something old… the seemingly never ending CoI problem