Argentine researchers have found that radiation emitted by an Internet-connected computer resting on the user’s legs may affect male fertility by reducing sperm motility and fragmenting DNA.
The research, first in the world on the subject, was carried out by experts from Nascentis, a reproductive medicine center located in Córdoba, Argentina. The results of the study will be presented at the 66 Congress of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) taking place in October in Denver, USA.
The researchers (led by Conrado Avendaño, a biochemist specializing in andrology, in collaboration with Ariela Mata, reproductive biology specialist and César Sánchez Sarmiento, director of the medical center, among others) demonstrated that the motility of spermatozoa is impaired when these cells are exposed to the radiation from laptops, according to a report published in the Córdoba newspaper “La Voz” (in Spanish).
For this study, the researchers evaluated semen samples from healthy donors with no history of recent illnesses. Each sample was divided into two equal fractions, which were placed in separate temperature-controlled rooms. One of the sub-samples was incubated under a laptop connected to the Internet, to replicate the conditions that occur when a man places the computer on his lap.
"After four hours of incubation of sperm under the two different conditions, we found that in the sample exposed to the laptop, a large percentage of the sperm cells were affected," said Dr. Avendaño to "La Voz”. The investigator concludes that their study shows that exposure of sperm to the radiation from the device did not kill the sperm cells, but affected their motility. Further, by evaluating the sperm cells’ DNA integrity, they found that there was a significant difference between both sub-samples:
"The fraction exposed to radiation had a significant increase in sperm cells with fragmented (broken) DNA," said Avendaño.
The findings are important because previous studies on reproductive medicine have shown that some of the problems in fertilization and embryonic development are caused by damage in the DNA molecules of the sperm.
While agreeing that further research on the matter is required, the researchers advise men to avoid holding laptop computers on the legs, "especially if they are connected to Internet through Wi-Fi."
This research brings new knowledge on the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on human health. EMF levels from Wi-Fi devices are much lower than those emitted by mobile phones, and there is less public concern on potential health issues for wireless LAN devices. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) claims that if a person spends one year in a Wi-Fi hot-spot, they will receive a dose of radio waves equivalent to a 20-minute call on a mobile phone.
Often wireless access points are in close proximity to humans, but the drop off in the already low power over distance is fast, following the inverse-square law (*). Nonetheless, the results of this study suggest that when a laptop is operated for long periods, the close proximity to the source of the EMF may affect a male user sensitive reproductive cells causing damage to DNA and reducing sperm cell motility.
(*) The radiation passing through any unit area is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source.