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We use electromagnetic communication everywhere these days. Cell phones, wifi, old-school radio transmissions, television, deep space communication, etc.

I'm curious about some of the possible reasons we have never seen biological systems having evolved to use electromagnetic, i.e. radio, for communication. The one obvious exception to this are organisms that generate their own light, i.e. bioluminescence. Cuttlefish are masters of this, and many other species as well.

It seems like bio-radio could have offered all kinds of evolutionary advantages for animals capable of using it.

Are their basic physical limits in chemistry, or excess energy requirements or something that would basically have made this impossible? Or was this perhaps just something that life never evolved to use, but would otherwise be possible in evolution?

{ asked by Geuis }


There is a very different mechanism for generation (and detection) of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light vs radio waves.

For the first, it is possible to generate it using chemical reactions (that is, chemiluminescence, bioluminescence) with a typical energy of order of 2 eV (electronovolts). Also, it is easy to detect with similar means - coupling to a bond (e.g. using opsins).

For much longer electromagnetic waves, and much lower energies per photon, such mechanism does not work. There are two reasons:

In other words - radiation which is less energetic than thermal radiation (far infrared) is not suitable for communication using molecular mechanisms, as thermal noise jams transmission (making the sender firing at random and making the receiver being blind by noise way stronger than the signal).

However, one can both transmit, and detect it, using wires. In principle it is possible; however, without good conductors (like metals, not - salt solutions) it is not an easy task (not impossible though).

{ answered by Piotr Migdal }