, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 379-391

Prospects for applied bioelectrochemistry

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Abstract

Galvani, Volta, Davy and Faraday all recognized that life on earth and electrochemistry are intimately connected. The controlled transduction and flow of energy is at the heart of both.

Life exists along the grand solar energy vector that is made up of countless different living species' individual component vectors. Chloroplasts in photosynthetic cells and the mitochondria in all living cells function as the equivalent of a battery charging and discharging, and together form an electrochemical circuit that spans life's energy vector. An electrochemical circuit consists of two compartments with a chemical potential difference between them connected by two or more links that are selectively permeable to different chemical species. Link permselectivity determines whether the chemical energy is transduced to electrical or mechanical form: the two forms that predominantly control biological growth.

This review shows how a network of electrochemical circuits can have all the properties required to control chemistry and physics on space and timescales that are appropriate to the control of the biochemistry of creatures great and small: an amoeba or an elephant from its conception to its death. Evidence supporting this electrochemical circuit model is then discussed. A creature and its control network can grow together and when both are complete the fully balanced network appears as a distribution of electric potentials. Injury unbalances the network and so starts direct currents of injury flowing in it that may be the signal that intitiates and controls its repair. Many less highly evolved species, e.g. salamanders, can regenerate lost limbs, an ability that more highly evolved species have lost. Do they lack a sufficient current of injury? If so can the current of injury be provided artificially? It is now beyond reasonable doubt that recalcitrant bone fractures in humans can be stimulated to re-unite using electrical signals designed to generate a current of injury across the fracture. Orthopaedic surgeons now consider about 80 % success as normal for non-unions that would probably be permanent if they remained unstimulated. There is now clinical evidence showing that stimulation is effective in promoting healing of peripheral nerves, varicose ulcers and burns. Most significantly, currents flowing into the ends of children's fingers that have been accidentally amputated are electrochemically very similar to those that control the regeneration of amphibian's lost limbs. Finger tips which are treated so as not to disturb these natural currents usually regenerate nearly perfectly. A great deal of evidence supporting the view that electrochemical circuit networks play a major part in controlling biological growth and healing processes is reviewed and it is suggested that it may soon be possible to manipulate their control functions to great humanitarian and probably ecomonic benefit.