Unfortunately, several angry Twitter users pointed out it was insensitive of me and irrelevant to mention the country where the Human Photosynthesis Study Center scientists are located. I am confused about this, but I do not want to be insensitive. It appears it is OK to mention most countries but not certain others. I will just try to continue to be an equal-opportunity science integrity detective.
Yesterday, Twitter user @Arroboso pointed out research on “Human Photosynthesis” through this tweet.
Of course I was curious. Last time I checked, humans are not capable of photosynthesis. Instead, I learned that humans are heterotrophs, organisms that rely on eating other organism to get their energy from.
Simply put, photosynthesis is the process in which plants and other organisms use the energy from the sun to convert simple molecules (carbon dioxide and water) into more complex molecules, such as glucose or other sugars. These sugars then can be used for energy or building blocks for cells. Animals need to eat plants or other animals that eat plants down the food chain to get that energy. They then can extract that energy using the TCA (Citric acid / Krebs) cycle in the cells mitochondria. This pathway generates NADH, which then is used to make ATP, the energy-storage molecule. This is basic biology – and anyone who claims that humans can do photosynthesis or that glucose or ATP are not used for cellular energy requirements will be met with great skepticism.
Of course, science should always be open to new hypotheses or theories that go against common concepts. But – if you make extraordinary claims that go against accepted theories, you also need to come with extraordinary evidence. Think about how Marshall and Warren proved that Helicobacter pylori caused stomach ulcers. If you make a big claim, you need to have some big evidence. So what was this set of papers about, and what proof do the authors have that humans can do photosynthesis?
The Human Photosynthesis Study Center
The papers that were pointed out by Arroboso were affiliated with the “Human Photosynthesis Study Center“. A quick search in Google Scholar (which unfortunately also indexes predatory publishers) with this search term between quotes yielded 56 papers. Two of these papers are even included in PubMed, suggesting they were peer-reviewed in “real” journals.
In addition, the “Human Photosynthesis Study Center” has a website in which their theory is explained in this very long sentence:
The Center for the Study of Human Photosynthesis, was founded as a result of our discovery of the amazing ability of the human body to transform the visible and invisible light energy into chemical free energy through dissociation and re-formed from the water molecule , which forms a chemical cycle that first part is almost identical to the first reaction that occurs in the leaves of plants, where the chlorophyll in the presence of the ends of the visible light (purple and red) dissociates the molecule water generating hydrogen and oxygen diatomic, ie liquid water transforms the gaseous components, which is a reaction in the laboratory requires much energy as is necessary to raise the temperature of water to two thousand degrees Celsius, and leaf ground and we took him out at room temperature.Source: HumanPhotosynthesis.com
This sentence did not explain the HPSC theory very well, so I started to dig around a bit more, and read several of their papers that were listed on Google Scholar. Here is how their theory goes, as explained in this 2011 International Journal of Clinical Medicine paper by Arturo Solis-Herrera et al.
- The human eye, specifically the human retina, needs a lot of energy.
- There are no blood vessels in the retina. Thus, ATP or glucose cannot reach the retina. How then can the retina get energy?
- The retina contains the pigment melanin
- This melanin can split water into H2 and O2. H2 is the carrier of energy.
- Thus, energy comes from water, and biomass comes from glucose
- “Glucose cannot be the source of energy; in that case diabetic patients must be able to fly. ” – Solís Herrera et al. 2013
- “Human being begin to lose the capacity to split the water molecule at 26 years old, ca. 10 % each decade, and after fifties goes into free fall” – Solís-Herrera et al. 2012
- “It is not known what energy is. Is it a line? Is it a circle? Is it a wave? Is it a comma? Who knows? Energy is everything that is able to produce some change, whichever could be.” – Solís-Herrera et al. 2013
- “By raising the levels of this unsuspected photosynthetic process in the human body, i.e. by pharmacological means, the body responds as a whole, and begins to function as correctly he has done millions of times, millions of years” – Solís-Herrera et al. 2015
- “Melanin is to the Animal Kingdom like Chlorophyll is to the Vegetable Kingdom” – http://humanphotosynthesis.com/
There are several steps in this theory that sound incorrect. For starters, the human species is only 200,000 years old, not millions of years. But maybe the authors could convince us with some mind blowing experiments?
I searched very hard, but none of their papers appear to show that melanin can split water into H2 and O2. Or that H2 is the bearer of energy to retina or other cells. It is just a (wild) theory.
Case reports with personal identifiers but without consent statement
However, that did not stop the authors from treating patients with vision loss with “photosynthesis enhancement” therapy, as found in their 2011 International Journal of Clinical Medicine paper. This therapy consisted of hourly application of 3 drops of a mysterious compound (QIAPI 1) under the tongue. “The therapeutic result was amazing”. It is not very scientific to describe a wonderful treatment – but not specify what that treatment is.
Disturbingly, this paper and several of other papers by Solís-Herrera et al. (here, here, and here) show brain scan photos with legible patients names, identifiable photos of patients in treatment or waiting rooms, and/or birth dates. There is no statement if patients had given consent to have their names or photos used in these papers.
A 2012 paper (in Pharm Anal Acta, a very low impact journal) by the HPSC group describes a group of 308 Alzheimer’s patients who “fell attracted due to notable therapeutic results and came of their own volition to our Human Photosynthesis Center. ” There is no description of age, gender distribution, or inclusion/exclusion criteria. There was no control group.
These patients were all treated with QIAPI 1, three drops every 2h during daytime, for a couple of months. According to Chart 1, the results were spectacular. In fact, the authors state that “every single patient had a remarkable improvement in all mind spheres” – whatever that may mean, and no matter how too perfect this may sound. The paper does not disclose how the memory loss was assessed, either. Again, there is no description of the ingredients in the magical drops contains. This should not have passed peer review. But most of these low impact journals, called “predatory” by others, do not appear to care about critical peer review anyway.
The Results section of the Alzheimer’s paper contains a description of 5 clinical cases. Bizarrely, only 3 of these were patients with Alzheimer’s. The other 2 are a female patient of 14 years old born in 2012 (same year as paper was published – so this seems an error) with vision loss, and a male patient of about 44 years old with diabetes and double vision. Why these patients were included in a paper about Alzheimer’s treatent remains a mystery. In addition, the paper includes identifiable patients’ photos.
Although the paper might show that treatment with mystery compound QIAPI 1 might have an effect on patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it does not show that melanin splits and reforms water. Nor does it show that glucose is not a sourse of energy. The conclusions of this paper are therefore not at all supported by the provided results.
Of particular concern, the paper states that “The protocol was approved by our own Ethics Committee in Research” – meaning they approved their own research proposal. This could not have been an independent assessment for a small, for-profit company.
Conflicts of interest
However, this “no conflict of interest” statement appears to be not quite correct. The Human Photosynthesis Study Center is selling their elusive photosynthesis enhancer QIAPI1 on their website. The Blue Box is currently on sale for $95 (instead of the regular price of $95) while the red formula is $125 instead of the normal price of $125 – so great deals!
In addition, there are several US patents associated with the Photosynthesis Study Center and/or author Arturo Solis-Herrera. So there is a huge conflict of interest. Unfortunately, these patents are not disclosed in most of the papers by this group.
- US Patent 8,455,145B2 describes “Photoelectrochemical method of separating water into hydrogen and oxygen, using melanins or the analogues, precursors or derivatives thereof as the central electrolysing element”
- US Patent 9,918,996B2 describes “Methods of using qiapine”
- US Patent 10,220,021 B2 describes “Methods for treating and preventing ocular diseases, disorders, and conditions with melanin and melanin analogs, precursors, and derivatives”
QIAPI 1 contains nicotine and salicylic acid
From one of the patents, it appears that the QIAPI 1 product contains two active ingredients: salicylic acid and nicotine.
Salicylic acid is used in acne treatments, and it is also one of the active metabolites of aspirin. Nicotine is a stimulant found in some plants including the tobacco plant. One could envision that a combination of these ingredients could have some physiological effect on patients. But how these compounds help “human photosynthesis”, interact with melanin, or split water into H2 and O2 remains a mystery.
In addition, these 2 ingredients are not particularly innocent. Would you feel comfortable pipetting a nicotine solution in the mouth of a baby? Yet, the authors claim that the use of QIAPI 1 is completely safe, and can be applied to pregnant women or premature babies. There is no documentation how the authors proved that the product “fits all the legal, medical and ethical requirements to be used in humans at any age”.
In one of the PubMed index papers (no access for me), the authors propose to use this “photosynthesis-enhancing” formulation for the use of vision problems in premature babies.
Affiliated institutions and funding
Although this set of papers all share the affiliation with the Human Photosynthesis Study Center, some list additional affiliations, including, King Abdulaziz University, Russian Academy of Science in Moscow, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, the University of Atlanta, and GALLY International Biomedical Research Consulting LLC (which appears a one-person consultancy firm).
According to some older blogs, the Human Photosynthesis Study Center or its predecessor has been funded by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT), an equivalent of the US National Science Foundation (Twitter trolls will call me insensitive if I mention the country, unfortunately). This funding was for the use of the proposed melanin-empowered water splitting into H2 and O2 in batteries.
On behalf of CONACyT in 2006, $ 3,400,000.00 (project AVANCE C2005-228) was assigned for the development of a “self-renewable electrochemical photo cell”; on the part of the Municipality of Aguascalientes obtained the project “Bat-Gen Batteries Pilot Lighting Program” to light the Plaza Patria de Aguascalientes, the project started in December 2010.Source: https://obrerofuturista.blogspot.com/2013/01/las-pseudociencias-suelen-recurrir-al.html?m=1 (per Google Translate)
A picture is worth a thousand words
After reading many of the Human Photosynthesis Study Center papers I am extremely skeptical. There is no proof that melanin can split water, that H2 is the universal carrier of energy, or that a mixture of nicotine/aspirin can cure Alzheimer’s.
But, sometimes, a picture is worth a 1000 words. So let’s take a look at the diagrams that the authors provide in their “scientific” papers. Maybe they can convince you that the human body is capable of photosynthesis? Here are some of the illustrations in the Human Photosynthesis Study Center papers. Feel free to leave any comments below and tell me what you think!