Information transfer is a fundamental of life. A few studies have reported that cells use photons (from an endogenous source) as information carriers. This study finds that cells can have an influence on other cells even when separated with a glass barrier, thereby disabling molecule diffusion through the cell-containing medium. As there is still very little known about the potential of photons for intercellular communication this study is designed to test for non-molecule-based triggering of two fundamental properties of life: cell division and energy uptake.
The study was performed with a cellular organism, the ciliate Paramecium caudatum. Mutual exposure of cell populations occurred under conditions of darkness and separation with cuvettes (vials) allowing photon but not molecule transfer. The cell populations were separated either with glass allowing photon transmission from 340 nm to longer waves, or quartz being transmittable from 150 nm, i.e. from UVlight to longer waves. Even through glass, the cells affected cell division and energy uptake in neighboring cell populations.
Depending on the cuvette material and the number of cells involved, these effects were positive or negative. Also, while paired populations with lower growth rates grew uncorrelated, growth of the better growing populations was correlated. As there were significant differences when separating the populations with glass or quartz, it is suggested that the cell populations use two (or more) frequencies for cellular information transfer, which influences at least energy uptake, cell division rate and growth correlation.
Altogether the study strongly supports a cellular communication system, which is different from a molecule-receptor-based system and hints that photon-triggering is a fine tuning principle in cell chemistry.