Long before electricity became a feature of our everyday lives, lightning was the main electromagnetic presence in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Humans and other organisms have been bathed in extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields for billions of years, a fact that researchers from Tel Aviv University recently discovered is not inconsequential.

This is because global lightning activity generates electromagnetic fields called Schumann Resonances, which the TAU research shows may have protective properties for organisms living under stress conditions.

“We found that under controlled conditions, the Schumann Resonance fields certainly had an effect on living tissues,” says TAU’s Prof. Colin Price.

“The most important effect was that the atmospheric ELF fields actually protected cells under stress conditions.”

“In other words, when biological cells are under stress — due to lack of oxygen, for example — the atmospheric fields from lightning appear to protect them from damage. This may be related to the evolutionary role these fields have played on living organisms,” he adds.

Price carried out the research with his doctoral student Gal Elhalel in collaboration with Profs. Asher Shainberg and Dror Fixler of Bar-Ilan University. The results were recently published in Nature Scientific Reports. 

In their study, the scientists induced fields similar to those in the atmosphere and witnessed significant effects on living heart cells within merely 30 to 40 minutes. The effects were temporary as the induced cell changes reversed when the fields were turned off.

“It is the first study that demonstrates a link between global lighting activity and the Schumann Resonances and the activity of living cells,” said Price. “It may explain why all living organisms have electrical activity in the same ELF spectral range.”

“This may have some therapeutic implications down the line, since these ELF fields appear to protect cells from damage, but this requires further research,” he concluded.