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I was reading about the consequences of using mobile phones and came across the statement that mobile phones are a potential source of cancers because DNA is a kind of a fractal antenna. The reason put forward for this was that it shares with mobile phone antennae the properties of self-similarity and electric conductivity.

The scientific paper which is the source of this statement appears to be: Blank and Goodman, “DNA is a fractal antenna in electromagnetic fields” Int J. Radiation Biology, 87:4, 409–415, DOI:10.3109/09553002.2011.538130. Is anyone able clarify this assertion and explain whether or not the arguments in the paper support it.

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    $\begingroup$ Where did you "meet" said statement? $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ @BenBolker why bogus? this is my question $\endgroup$
    – veronika
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ @BenBolker See also this comment: tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/09553002.2011.626490 $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ I have revised the question so that it is clear that the main question is the validity or not of the arguments in the source paper, which is cited. If someone is able to argue in support them they no doubt will be able to explain what a fractal antenna is and how this could cause DNA damage. I for one would be interested to know. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ See my associated question biology.stackexchange.com/questions/91078/… . It was deleted because I initially mentioned a disapproved reference that I later removed but the moderators did not undelete the question. I will post i Physics SE if it isn't unlocked. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 9:24

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I looked at the original paper, Blank and Goodman "DNA is a fractal antenna in electromagnetic fields" Int J Radiation Biology, 87:4, 409-415, DOI:10.3109/09553002.2011.538130.

To be honest I can't give concrete reasons to doubt it, but here are a few things that raise my suspicions:

  • it is a review article that relies heavily on self-citation (15/50 citations are authored or co-authored by the two authors of this paper, including most of the primary experimental references)
  • in my judgement "responding to many different frequencies" and "having structures on several different scales" (Table 1) is not particularly strong evidence to support the conjecture that DNA acts as a fractal antenna; I would be much more convinced by an analysis based on physics rather than analogy (this comment on the paper by Foster reviews the physics of fractal antennas and its application to DNA and concludes that "Loose and implausible conjectures about DNA as a fractal antenna do not substitute for careful discussion of these matters"; I don't find the authors' rebuttal particularly convincing)
  • the authors cite epidemiological evidence that non-ionizing/low-frequency radiation causes cancer: according to the US NIH's National Cancer Institute, this evidence is weak. (However, one of the authors of this paper is a contrarian on this subject and believes that the mainstream view is wrong, for a variety of reasons.) (See Are low-intensity radio-waves carcinogenic? for more discussion on Biology.SE.)
  • the paper uses very disparate lines of evidence (not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it feels haphazard): in particular, the authors discuss both low-frequency and ionizing radiation (this is part of their "DNA is sensitive to many different frequencies" argument, but ionizing radiation operates in a very different way)
  • it is highly speculative in places (e.g. "EMF is believed to have been an important driving force in evolution", p. 413, no reference; the authors go on to attribute the faster evolution of eukaryotes to the fact that their DNA structures are more fractal)
  • at least one of the references cited (de Pomerai et al. Nature 2000) was retracted in 2006 (5 years before the current paper was published)

What I can say in favor of the authors is that exploring the mechanisms by which low-frequency electromagnetic fields/radiation (ELF) affect cellular biology is indeed interesting; many of the epidemiological studies, while finding very weak effects, have also downplayed risk because so little is known about mechanisms of operation. If we could come up with a rigorous mechanistic understanding of ELF effects, that would be scientifically worthwhile.

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    $\begingroup$ See also the comment on this article: tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/09553002.2011.626490 $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ thx, incorporated in my answer $\endgroup$
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Well done Ben for taking the time to handle a complex subject! $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ many thousands, perhaps millions of people have been incorporated into studies of cancer rate Vs mobile phone use since mobile phones started warming folk's ears in 1995, so the topic went a phase of intense study in the 2000's as folk were suspicious that phones could actually cause cell damage. Actually, the many studies surprising found that the cancer rates were inconcluseively low and non-detectable. Also the conductivity of DNA is not like an antenna, it is probably 100 times less, and that conductivity may serve to protect it anyway, by giving oxidative charge a path of escape. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 0:12

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