Mobile radiation stunts crop growth

Team : AGRI - CHALLENGERS (B.voc - agriculture - first year /group 8)

Mobile phones may have become ubiquitous in rural areas and popular among farmers. But electromagnetic radiation emanating from them may be stunting the growth of agricultural crops and plants, preliminary research has revealed.

Studies carried out at Punjab University, Chandigarh, suggest that electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation from cell phones could choke seeds, affect germination and early growth. This is said to be the first such study on the impact of EMF radiation on seeds.

Though different groups of scientists have been studying the effect of mobile radiation on human beings, there has been no conclusive outcome yet. But Punjab University scientists have found definite clues on the ill-effects of electromagnetic radiation on crops and plants.

Their research results are to be announced in an international scientific journal soon.

The researchers germinated moong dal (Phaseolus aureus) seeds in a closed chamber in which two cell phones were kept on talk mode.

The results were surprising - they indicated that the radiation emitted from the cell phones inhibited germination and early growth of the pulse. The germination of the seeds exposed to two and four hours of cell phone radiation reduced by 18 and 30 per cent respectively, compared to seeds that were not exposed to any radiation.

Likewise, root and shoot lengths also showed a significant reduction in the seedlings emerging from cell phone-exposed seeds. The inhibitory effect of the electromagnetic radiation was greater on root growth than on shoot growth. The researchers found similar stunted growth for wheat seeds as well, in earlier studies.

"Our study has shown that cell phone radiation inhibited root growth by affecting respiration of the root and excessive leakage of ions (charged particles)," said Ravinder Kumar Kohli of the botany department of the university. He is one of the authors of the upcoming research paper. "The observed reduction in germination and early growth of moong upon exposure to cell phone radiation is being reported for the first time." Radiation increases ion leakage and ultimately causes breakage of cell membranes, the scientists explained. It causes certain oxidative stress, which naturally occurring anti- oxidant enzymes could not protect.

This study, researchers said, was important in view of the rapid increase in cell phone radiation in the natural environment and its possible impact on ecosystem processes and environmental health. It implied a need for environmental risk assessment caused by electromagnetic radiation from phones and cell phone towers, so that strategies can be devised to check electromagnetic pollution in the natural environment.

"Larger field studies are needed to further quantify the impact," Kohli said.

Ved Prakash Sharma, another member of the team, is finding radiation's dramatic impact on chicken eggs too.

Studies in Kerala also exposed the impact of cell phone radiation on honeybees and house sparrows.

Researchers said the state saw about 60 per cent plunge in commercial bee population.

Besides, house sparrows had vanished from the state. This was attributed to the electromagnetic radiation from mobile towers.

A study by the Kerala Environment Research Association (KERA), an NGO, said the eggs of sparrows nesting on mobile phone towers failed to hatch even after a month, though their normal incubation period ranged from 10 days to a fortnight.

"The mobile communication towers emit electromagnetic waves of a very low frequency of 900 or 1,800 MHz. But this is enough to harm the thin skull of the chicks and their egg shells,'' said KERA president Dr Sainudeen Pattazhy.

Researchers from Kolkata’s Jadavpur University have indicated mobile-tower radiation affects plants and vegetables, adding to a debate on the health implications of such technology as India’s telecom watchdog tries to dispel fears.

Scientists from the university’s electronics and telecommunications engineering department conducted tests on plants, fruits and vegetables by exposing them to radiation from cell phones.

“Nearly 50 chilli plants exposed to mobile radiation from the seed-stage till they grew into plants, attained more height and grew longer leaves than their counterparts not exposed to radiations. But their leaves were wrinkled and looked dull compared to normal plants,” said Bhaskar Gupta, a professor of electronics and telecommunication at Jadavpur University, who led the study.

Alarmed JU researchers have tied up with biologists at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research. Talks are also on with botanists of other universities, including Calcutta University.

“Our experiments only reveal plants are affected by mobile radiations. We are taking the help of biologists to find out what changes are going on inside the plants and whether these are harmful or beneficial. We have proposed a joint study with IISER-biologist Amirul I Mallick and have applied for funding from the department of science and technology,” Gupta said.

Since 2012, JU researchers are conducting tests on how radiation from mobile towers and cell phones affect fruits such as guava, grapes, apple, coconut, flowering plants such as jasmine and nayantara and chilli plants.

“In one study we had taken two pots and had sown chilli seeds in both. One pot was kept very close to a cell phone that was used every day in various modes. Data on the growth of plants was collected over a span of 50 days,” said Ardhendu Kundu, one of the researchers.

The handset was used to make calls for more than 17,000 minutes over 50 days. It was kept on standby mode for 54,818 minutes. The mobile rang for around 126 minutes. It was in the call set-up mode (the few seconds of silence that exists when a call is made and the mobile on the other end starts ringing) for nearly 10 minutes.

“Only 50% of the seeds exposed to radiation germinated compared to more than 75% of unexposed ones. The exposed seeds also took longer to germinate. But surprisingly when the plants in the exposed pot started growing, they attained more height,” said Kundu.

Though hundreds of studies have investigated how radiation affects humans, there have been few studies on plants. The department of science and telecommunication has funded a few studies but their results have not come out.

India is among the fastest growing telecom markets in the world, with its telecom industry growing from a tele-density of 3.58% in March 2001 to 78.13% in February, 2015. Telecom towers are critical installations. The success of government initiatives such as Digital India, Smart Cities and right to Broadband depends on this infrastructure. “Problems are aggravating because some telecom companies, in a bid to reduce cost of their operations share a single tower. Sometimes a single tower caters to at least four– five providers. This leads to cumulative radiation effect and could aggravate conditions,” said Sujoy K Guha, director of the school of medical science and technology at IIT Kharagpur.