- The "Kervran effect", i. e. the alleged transmutation of chemical
elements within living systems, has been re-investigated by growing
oat seeds in a controlled environment and measuring the total
amount of Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium before and after their
germination. No significant differences have been found for these
Kervran - oat seeds - biological transmutation - cold fusion
The "Kervran Effect" is named after its proponent, the French
chemist C. Louis Kervran, who claimed to have discovered it on
the basis of his own, years-long, observations and analyses. It
consists of the alleged transmutation of chemical elements within
a living (but also inorganic) system. The nuclei of some elements
would simply combine with those of others, giving rise to a third
+ 1H -----> 40Ca
+ 16O -----> 32S
+ 16O -----> 39K
These processes, some of which can be thought to be possible only
in high-energy nuclear reactors, would spontaneously occur in
living systems without any production or absorption of detectable
amounts of energy.
If true, these transmutations would contradict
not only the basic assumptions of chemistry since Lavoisier, namely
the laws of mass conservation, but also those of nuclear physics.
In fact, chemical reactions cannot create or
destroy atoms; rather, they can only rearrange existing atoms
into new molecules, depending on how their outermost electrons
However, Kervran is describing nuclear reactions,
like fusion or fission. We expect that both these reactions would
release huge amounts of energy; furthermore, fusion processes
would require a start-up temperature of millions of degrees.
Since no such energy-related phenomena have
yet been observed in living systems, the alleged Kervran effect
has understandably attracted even recently the attention of a
small number of scientists interested in the so-called cold fusion
phenomena.(Komaki, 1967, 1975, 1992, 1993)
Clearly, some of the fundamental tenets of
classic physics and chemistry are here in question. No law is
granted once and forever; but it is obvious that a revision of
such fundamental laws calls for a faultless documentation and
for very careful controls.
Experimental errors and biases in the analytical
procedures, "experimenter effect", wishful thinking, hoaxes and
frauds are the simplest explanations that come to mind and that
must be ruled out before Kervran's claims can be considered to
For all these reasons, a re-investigation and
a careful independent replication of the Kervran experiments seemed
Kervran himself published only two papers on scientific journals
(Kervran 1968, 1969). They consisted of experiments either on
just two lobsters, or on mice. These were considered to be difficult
to reproduce and to improve (using a much greater number of organisms).
He also described experiments on other systems
in two of his books, (Kervran 1966, 1973) but the experimental
details and the analytical procedures reported are very poorly
One experiment, on the germination of oat seeds,
however, was carefully repeated several times and described in
sufficient details by Zündel (1980), and declared by Kervran
himself in his last book (Kervran, 1982) to be the best example
of a possible test of the effect. We notice that even in this
paper the exact analytical procedure was not reported.
We decided therefore to follow as closely as
possible Zündel's procedure and conditions, trying to improve
its precision, the controls and the final analysis whenever possible.
In this replication we did not bother to apply
stringent security protocols, such as double-blind procedures,
coding of the samples, etc. It should be clear, however, that
extraordinary claims call for extraordinary evidence; if an anomaly
would have indeed been detected, we were prepared to repeat all
the procedure applying tighter controls to reduce the risk of,
say, experimenter effect, hoaxes, sample contamination or tampering
with data by people external to the experiment, etc.
A lot of oat seeds (cultivar NAVE) were obtained from INRA (Istituto
Nazionale Ricerche Agronomiche). Their expected and certified
germinating power was at least 95%.
1800 seeds (total weight g 40.4709) were used
for the germination process; other 1800 (total weight g 40.4926)
served as the control.
A germinating chamber (Phytotron) was used, whose inner measures
were cm 105 x 85 x 63. Inside the Phytotron we put a second chamber
of cm 70 x 60 x 51 manufactured with Plexiglas (perspex, poly-methylmethachrylate).
Inside this tank we put two 54 x 45 cm perspex
panels to accommodate for 36 Petri dishes where the seeds were
to be grown. This chamber was air-tight and was provided with
an additional 20 W UV lamp.
The Phytotron provided for the thermal regulation.
The temperature was set at 28 °C and was constantly checked
by means of an inside probe and an external display. However,
in the first four days of the experiment the heat from the external
lamp raised the inside temperature to 41 °C. We moved the
lamp a bit away (cm 70), so that during the light period (see
below) the maximum T was 35 °C, and during the dark period
the T was the room temperature of 20-21 °C.
Thirty-six round polythene Petri dishes (diam.
mm 90) were located on each perspex panel, under the watering
tubes. In every dish we put a round Whatman ashless filter paper
and 50 evenly distributed oat seeds.
The air supply was provided by an external unit comprising: a
small membrane pump; a filtration device containing a 0.45 ultramembrane;
a bubbler containing N/10 HCl followed by a second one with sat
aq NaHCO3, and an empty safety bottle.
At the exit from the Phytotron, the air was
led through a second empty safety bottle, a manometer gauge (that
could be regulated to obtain a small positive pressure inside
the chamber) and finally a last bubbler filled with water.
A small fan inside the chamber assured the
circulation of the air.
The water used was deionized and bi-distilled, and had a pH =
5.8 - 6. It was stored in a closed polythene reservoir, and
delivered automatically to the sprouts through a small peristaltic
pump and a plastic tubing running over the sprouts and having
a number of tiny holes from which the water could drip.
The amount of water consumed after the 28 days
was ca 5500 ml. Not all of this water, however, dripped
into the Petri dishes since as the sprouts grew longer they prevented
some of the water from doing so; dripping from the tubing itself
was also somewhat uneven. At the end of the germination period,
ca 1500 ml of water were collected from the bottom of the
Phytotron. In any case, 4000 ml of the same water used for the
experiment were evaporated, and analysed for their Calcium contents,
using the same techniques as for the plant analysis. This amount
was considered to be negligible with respect to the total Calcium
of all the 1800 seeds (see below for analytical data).
The light condition for the germinating tank was provided by an
external lamp (Osram Power Star 400 W) at a distance of 70 cm
(see above), for 12 h of light period followed by 12 h of dark
A 20 W UV lamp was put inside the tank, below
the middle panel, and also switched on during the light period.
As reported, owing to unhomogeneity of some conditions, the seedlings'
growth was also uneven. Difference in the temperature caused some
of the seeds to germinate later; a few dishes developed traces
of moulds toward the end of the experiment.
At the end of a growing period of 21 days two samples were prepared
by one of the Author (EDV).
A contained all the oat sprouts as they were after the 21 days
(including roots, ungerminated seeds, small amount of moulds,
etc.), 36 ashless filter paper discs and the water that was in
the Petri dishes at the moment of the crop.
B contained 1800 seeds, 36 ashless filter paper discs, and 4000
ml of the same water used for the growth.
third sample ( C ) was prepared reducing to dryness 4000 ml of
reagents used were from BDH, Spectrosol line. The water was deionized
One former criticism to Zündel's results (see in Komaki,
1969, p.257) was that Calcium in the sprouts is present mainly
as the pectate, which is transformed in the oxide by dry ashing
at 850°C; while before the germination Calcium is partly in
the form of its sulphate or phosphate, which are not decomposed
at 850°C and not dissolved during the following treatment
with HCl. This might explain the increased contents of Ca found
after germination. We decided therefore to dry-ash the plants
at 950 °C, temperature which should obviate for these inconveniences.
A large quartz crucible (capacity 900 ml, 105
x 165 mm diam) was used because preliminary tests showed that
at 950 °C inox steel containers were attacked and corroded.
Porcelain was excluded since K and Na silicate were detected in
this material. The quartz crucible that we decided to use (manufactured
by Soffieria Sestese, Sesto S. Giovanni, Milan) was not corroded,
but developed a few stains after treatment of the material at
950 °C. We were confident that possible Si contamination might
be controlled in the analytical step (LaCl3 addition, see below).
Both samples A (sprouts), B (control seeds) and C (4000 ml water)
were treated in the same way.
They were dried at 110 °C for 8 h, then dry-ashed on a Bunsen
flame and in the quartz crucible until complete carbonisation.
The ashes were then kept for 4 h at 550 °C, then 4 h at 850
°C and 8 h at 950 °C.
The glassy ashes thus obtained were carefully dissolved in 20
ml 65% HNO3, diluted with H2O and heated at 60 - 70 °C for
30 min. The residue was dried, redissolved in 36% HCl, diluted
with H2O, filtered into a volumetric flask and brought up to 200
ml. Filter, crucible etc. were washed with water until neutrality.
Aliquots were taken from samples A, B and C and were analysed
in two independent laboratories: at the Istituto Tecnico Agrario
Statale "G. Cantoni" in Treviglio on a Perkin Elmer Instrument,
and in a professional laboratory on a Perkin Elmer Optima 3000
Optical ICP Instrument (in this laboratory the operators were
ignorant as to what the samples were.)
was analysed by Atomic Emission (766.5 nm) with addition of 0.1
was analysed by Atomic Absorption (422.7 nm) with addition of
1 % LaCl3.
was analysed by Atomic Absorption (285.2 nm) with addition of
1 % LaCl3.
For all the experimental measures done in this paper the values
are the average of three determinations and the RSD is 3% for
K and 2% for Ca and Mg.
A (sprouts) SAMPLE B (seeds)
153,6 mg/1800 sprouts 163,6 mg/1800 seeds
25.35 mg/1800 sprouts 25.60 mg/1800 seeds
46.4 mg/1800 sprouts 45.7 mg/1800 seeds
C was analysed for Calcium, whose amount was 0.00046 mg/l, namely,
if 4000 ml were used up by 1800 seeds, ca 0.001 mg/100
seeds (see above).
2 (OPT ICP)
A (sprouts) SAMPLE B (seeds)
150 mg/1800 sprouts 153 mg/1800 seeds
24.4 mg/1800 sprouts 24.8 mg/1800 sprouts
46.4 mg/1800 sprouts 48.2 mg/1800 seeds
3 (University of Pavia)
Calcium only was also analysed (blind procedure) at the Dept.
of Analytical Chemistry, University of Pavia, both by standard
addition and by calibration curve, and with a 0.1% La3+ addition,
on an I.L. Atomic Absorption spectrophotometer, giving the following
A (sprouts) SAMPLE B (seeds)
23.44 mg/1800 sprouts 26.4 mg/1800 seeds
"Kervran effect" could not be replicated.
All results indicate that, well within the
method's precision, there is no increase or variation in the total
amounts of Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium in oat seeds after
We encourage other researchers to independently repeat these experiments
as accurately as possible. If results will constantly be negative,
then the probability of a bias, a systematic or analytical error
in Kervran's and others' results must indeed be considered.
We thank Dr Lucia Cucca (Dept Anal. Chem., University of Pavia)
for analysis of Calcium, and Drs Massimo Scotti and Francesco
Gatti (Dasit SpA) for the construction of the germination chamber
and its control systems.