Recent concern about apparent die-offs in bees apparently has now led to speculation that cellphone radiation is the cause for bee disappearance. Instapundit has weighed in, questioning with well deserved skepticism the validity of this claim.
Because I am a scientist, I do not try to establish validity of such reports via Google, but via Web of Science, the search engine that encompasses academic literature, both peer-reviewed and not. As far as I am concerned, until data have been published in peer-reviewed literature, any fantastic “scientific” claims are just clamors for attention.
There is no information yet in the scientific literature regarding possible causes of CCD or “colony collapse disorder” as some have tagged the syndrome of the disappearing bees. This is not too surprising, because it appears to be a fairly recent phenomenon, but I guarantee you that because the USDA supports several Bee Research Laboratories in the western U.S., this problem, if genuine, is being addressed by qualified government scientists as I write (if all the bee lab guys I used to know weren’t long retired from the lab, I would call one now to get his take on it).
The mere fact that the U.S.D.A. has labs of bee scientists confirms that domesticated honey bees are indeed important to the pollination of crops in the U.S. But as I pointed out in my last post on the topic, they are by no means the only species of pollinator out there. So don’t expect any food shortage panics anytime soon.
What of the cell radiation theory then? Cell radiation has been a human health concern for quite some time, and thus the literature on this topic is quite robust. Some studies (but not others) have found increased cell apoptosis (cell death that is orderly – as opposed to sudden and widespread) due to exposure to cell radiation, but even this doesn’t mean we should necessarily be alarmed, because all these studies were performed on cell cultures (in vitro), not on real people using cell phones in a usual manner (in vivo). A recent paper (Valberg, P.A., van Deventer, T.E. & Repacholi, M.H. (2007) Workgroup report: Base stations and wireless networks-radiofrequency (RF) exposures and health consequences. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115, 416-424.) examines evidence that radio-frequency radiation (including cell phones) affects actual human health adversely, and concludes that there is no evidence that it does so. In fact, the authors point out (from the abstract):
The possibility of RF health effects has been investigated in epidemiology studies of cellular telephone users and workers in RT occupations, in experiments with animals exposed to cell-phone RF, and via biophysical consideration of cell-phone RF electric-field intensity and the effect of RF modulation schemes. As summarized here, these separate avenues of scientific investigation provide little support for adverse health effects arising from RF exposure at levels below current international standards. Moreover, radio and television broadcast waves have exposed populations to RF for > 50 years with little evidence of deleterious health consequences. Despite unavoidable uncertainty, current scientific data are consistent with the conclusion that public exposures to permissible RF levels from mobile telephony and base stations are not likely to adversely affect human health.
Here is a table from the paper comparing all the sources of RF we are exposed to (sorry about the low resolution):
So my advice is, chat away until further notice – with the caveat that out of caution, avoid giving cell phones to young kids because developing brains are certainly more sensitive to environmental effects than grown ones, and models suggest that child heads absorb EM radiation more than adult heads (De Salles, A.A., Bulla, G. & Rodriguez, C.E.F. (2006) Electromagnetic absorption in the head of adults and children due to mobile phone operation close to the head. Electromagnetic Biology And Medicine, 25, 349-360.). Obviously, if anyone had found major health effects yet there would have been a massive response to deal with it by some country.
Back to the bees though. Different species will not necessarily be affected the same way as humans, especially such distantly related groups such as insects, but as of yet I, as an entomologist who does not specialize in bees, doubt that cell radiation is causing CCD. The article quotes some one knowledgeable about cell radiation, not insects, in asserting the likelihood that it does. Most important, bees navigate primarily via polarized light, which is in a completely different part of the EM spectrum from radio waves. How radio waves could possibly impact their use of light for navigation (any more than it does humans’ use of light for navigation) is at best nonintuitive, so I would never believe it until I saw the published paper showing me the evidence. I am not holding my breath for that paper to appear.
Check out the latest research update on CCD: Do honeybees have AIDS?
Erogul, O., Oztas, E., Yildirim, I., Kir, T., Aydur, E., Komesli, G., Irkilata, H.C., Irmak, M.K. & Peker, A.F. (2006) Effects of electromagnetic radiation from a cellular phone on human sperm motility: An in vitro study. Archives Of Medical Research, 37, 840-843.
Joubert, V., Leveque, P., Cueille, M., Bourthoumieu, S. & Yardin, C. (2007) No apoptosis is induced in rat cortical neurons exposed to GSM phone fields. Bioelectromagnetics, 28, 115-121.
Remondini, D., Nylund, R., Reivinen, J., de Gannes, F.P., Veyret, B., Lagroye, I., Haro, E., Trillo, M.A., Capri, M., Franceschi, C., Schlatterer, K., Gminski, R., Fitzner, R., Tauber, R., Schuderer, J., Kuster, N., Leszczynski, D., Bersani, F. & Maercker, C. (2006) Gene expression changes in human cells after exposure to mobile phone microwaves. Proteomics, 6, 4745-4754.
Thorlin, T., Rouquette, J.M., Hamnerius, Y., Hansson, E., Persson, M., Bjorklund, U., Rosengren, L., Ronnback, L. & Persson, M. (2006) Exposure of cultured astroglial and microglial brain cells to 900 MHz microwave radiation. Radiation Research, 166, 409-421.
Zhao, T.Y., Zou, S.P. & Knapp, P.E. (2007) Exposure to cell phone radiation up-regulates apoptosis genes in primary cultures of neurons and astrocytes. Neuroscience Letters, 412, 34-38.