Bioelectromagnetics, also known as bioelectromagnetism, is the study of the interaction between electromagnetic fields and biological entities. Areas of study include electrical or electromagnetic fields produced by living cells, tissues or organisms, including bioluminescent bacteria; for example, the cell membrane potential and the electric currents that flow in nerves and muscles, as a result of action potentials. Others include animal navigation utilizing the geomagnetic field; the effects of man-made sources of electromagnetic fields like mobile phones; and developing new therapies to treat various conditions. The term can also refer to the ability of living cells, tissues, and organisms to produce electrical fields and the response of cells to electromagnetic fields.
Short-lived electrical events called action potentials occur in several types of animal cells which are called excitable cells, a category of cell include neurons, muscle cells, and endocrine cells, as well as in some plant cells. These action potentials are used to facilitate inter-cellular communication and activate intracellular processes. The physiological phenomena of action potentials are possible because voltage-gated ion channels allow the resting potential caused by electrochemical gradient on either side of a cell membrane to resolve.
Bioelectromagnetism is studied primarily through the techniques of electrophysiology. In the late eighteenth century, the Italian physician and physicist Luigi Galvani first recorded the phenomenon while dissecting a frog at a table where he had been conducting experiments with static electricity. Galvani coined the term animal electricity to describe the phenomenon, while contemporaries labeled it galvanism. Galvani and contemporaries regarded muscle activation as resulting from an electrical fluid or substance in the nerves.
Some usually aquatic animals, such as sharks, have acute bioelectric sensors providing a sense known as electroreception, while migratory birds navigate in part by orienteering with respect to the Earth's magnetic field. In an extreme application of electromagnetism, the electric eel is able to generate a large electric field outside its body used for hunting and self-defense through a dedicated electric organ.