These are your cells on a map, but how are your cells on a cell?

Thanks to Leven for this.

In the US alone, it was estimated that there were 92 million cell phone users in 2000 and this number was growing by 1 million every month. The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association has estimated that there were almost 170 million U.S. cell phone subscribers in 2004.

Cell phones have steadily founded themselves in our everyday life, so much so, as to make them an attractive means for some scientific ends. In mid September, a geographical information system (GIS) application was built in the Austrian city of Graz, based on data from real-time cell-phone use. Tens of thousands of people carrying cell-phones were mapped using information from one of the leading local mobile companies. The ‘’Mobile Landscapes project’’ continually remaps the mobile positions according to the new information it receives. “For the first time ever we are able to visualize the full dynamics of a city in real time,” said project leader Carlo Ratti, an architect/engineer and head of the SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT. So you get to visualize these dynamics, by virtue of a neat representation of the density and ‘flows’ of users on the city map. Urban planning studies and applications will certainly find much usefulness in this. It could help transport engineers aiming at better freeway traffic management, may prove useful in large large-scale emergencies, as well in regulating emergency and safety precautionary measures, etc.

In another recent scientific endeavor, mobile phones were used in the field of medicine. A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that a Michigan hospital reduced by half the time it takes to begin life-saving treatment on heart attack patients, by using cell phones to transmit electrocardiograms (ECG) from the field. The patient calls his doctor not feeling well; the doctor begins to diagnose by running ECG’s with the help of the cell before the ambulance gets to unpark. The medical staff are better prepared by the time the patient arrives at the hospital. Sounds pretty good huh?

Not always. Over these past years, however, when health was the issue- cell-phone usage had been burning tissue rather than preventing (or better preparing for) heart-attacks. Some research suggests that radio-frequency cell-phone emitted radiation not only heats cell tissue but breaks it up and mutates cell DNA. The most recent such study of significant size is the REFLEX Project (which stands for Risk Evaluation of Potential Environmental Hazards from Low Frequency Electromagnetic Field Exposure Using Sensitive in vitro Methods).

A four-year study that surfaced almost a year ago was conducted by 12 research groups in seven European nations and was two-thirds funded by the European Union. The REFLEX Project studied electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in the extremely low frequency (ELF) region, coming from the ordinary electricity supply and appliances, and in the radio frequency (RF) range emitted by mobile phones. The study was looking for the effects on human and animal molecules after exposures to EMF for short periods of time: from 6 hours to 24 hours and at most up to a few days. The effects of long-term exposures were not addressed.

Despite this, what many groups found was that exposure to electromagnetic radiation caused significant DNA breaks in human and animal cells. DNA damage occurred even when radiation levels were often far below the official limits. This damage could not always be repaired by the cell and it would persist in the next generation of cells. Despite these findings, the concluding report stated the following:

Taken together, the results of the REFLEX project were exclusively obtained in in vitro studies and are, therefore, not suitable for the conclusion that RF-EMF exposure below the presently valid safety limits causes a risk to the health of people.

So damaged and mutated cells are not necessarily a bad thing! This is, of course, a very controversial and ‘sensitive’ topic, and this is aptly reflected in the conclusive remarks of many different studies. It is however, one that definitely deserves our close attention considering the heavy, and intimate (touches our head, maybe the waist too), use we make of this technology.

Anyone interested in more info on other ‘cell-phone effect’ studies,

Radio frequency safe devices

Court case in Maryland and many other links

Israel TECHNION on sight

Institute of Science in Society

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