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Stochastic resonance at the single-cell level
RD Astumian, RK Adair and JC Weaver
Nature 14 Aug 1997; 388: 632-633

Does the electricity with which we power our world pose significant health hazards from the resulting electromagnetic fields? Several authors have speculated that `stochastic resonance' - a nonlinear phenomenon in which the addition of noise to a system increases its response to an external signal - may allow biological cells to detect and respond to very weak external electric fields far below the thermal noise limit, and thus possibly cause harmful effects. Here we examine this question using a recent theory of Bezrukov and Vodyanoy for the effect of non-equilibrium noise on a voltage detector (such as a biological ion channel). We show that with parameters appropriate for typical biological cells, adding noise does not make a far-from-detectable signal detectable.

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