An intriguing theory explains animals' magnetic sense.
- Some animals can navigate via magnetism, though scientists aren't sure how.
- Research shows that some of these animals contain magnetotactic bacteria.
- These bacteria align themselves along the magnetic field's grid lines.
Magnetotactic bacteria hosts<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTQ2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDcwMTYxMn0.BZ-cpaTejm38_HCvVoSZ92k58dxnQETahNmKOmB14X4/img.jpg?width=980" id="c6097" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9f01b7583442ad92a05927c79754f50" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="whale mother and calf" />
A right whale mother and calf
Credit: wildestanimal/Shutterstock<p>One of the paper's authors, Geneticist <a href="https://sciences.ucf.edu/biology/person/robert-fitak/" target="_blank">Robert Fitak</a>,<a href="https://sciences.ucf.edu/biology/person/robert-fitak/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a> is affiliated with the biology department of the <a href="https://www.ucf.edu" target="_blank">University of Central Florida</a> in (UCF) Orlando. Prior to joining the department, he spent four years as a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University investigating the genomic mechanisms responsible for magnetic perception in fish and lobsters.</p><p>Fitak tells <a href="https://www.ucf.edu/news/animals-magnetic-sixth-sense-may-come-from-bacteria-new-paper-suggests/" target="_blank">UFC Today</a>, "The search for a mechanism has been proposed as one of the last major frontiers in sensory biology and described as if we are 'searching for a needle in a needle stack.'"</p><p>That metaphorical needle stack may well be the scientific community's largest database of microbes, the <a href="https://bmcgenomics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2164-9-75" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Metagenomic Rapid Annotations using Subsystems Technology database</a>. It lists the animal samples in which magnetotactic bacteria have been found.</p><p>The primary use of the database, says Fitak, has been the measurement of bacterial diversity in entire phyla. An accounting of the appearance of magnetotactic bacteria in individual species is something that has previously be unexplored. "The presence of these magnetotactic bacteria had been largely overlooked, or 'lost in the mud' amongst the massive scale of these datasets," he reports.</p><p>Fitak dug into the database and discovered that magnetotactic bacteria have indeed been identified in a number of species known to navigate by magnetism, among them loggerhead sea turtles, Atlantic right whales, bats, and penguins. <em>Candidatus Magnetobacterium bavaricum</em> is regularly found in loggerheads and penguins, while <em>Magnetospirillum</em> and <em>Magnetococcus</em> are common among right whales and bats.</p><p>As for other magnetic-field-sensitive animals, he says, "I'm working with the co-authors and local UCF researchers to develop a genetic test for these bacteria, and we plan to subsequently screen various animals and specific tissues, such as in sea turtles, fish, spiny lobsters and birds."</p>
The bacteria-host relationship<p>While the presence of the bacteria in these particular species is intriguing, further study is needed to be sure they're responsible for other animals' magnetic navigation. Their presence in these species <em>could</em> be just a coincidence.</p><p>Fitak also notes that he doesn't know at this point exactly where in the host animal the magnetotactic bacteria would reside, or other details of their symbiotic relationship. He suggests that they might be found in nervous tissue associated with navigation, such as that found in the brain or eye.</p><p>If confirmed, Fitak's hypothesis could suggest that our own sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic field might one day be enhanced via magnetotactic bacteria in our own individual microbiomes, should they be benign to us as hosts.</p>
Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?
It's a record magnetic field, but... yeah. That didn't last long.
- Scientists knew that it would probably explode, but they did not expect to reach such a record magnetic field.
- Magnetic fields are measured in teslas, after Nikola Tesla.
- This one reached a record 1,200 teslas, 400 times stronger than an MRI; watch it explode in the video
1,200 teslas later... a huge white light engulfs the lab. Video below!
Photo: The University of Tokyo.
Another view of the magnetic explosion<p>This image explains it a bit better, <a href="https://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/nanotechnology/magnetic-field-record-set-with-a-bang-1200-tesla" target="_blank">from the IEEE institute</a>. "The University of Tokyo's 1,200-Tesla magnetic field generator is powered by a bank of capacitors [on left, white] capable of storing 5 megajoules. The capacitors' energy flows into the primary coil [bottom left, gray] and induces a counteracting current and magnetic field in the liner [orange]. This implodes the liner in 40 microseconds, compressing the magnetic field [bottom right]."</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODY3MTM3OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNjgwMjkyMn0.3qkPOi6sqvSnMPGgA-eiugzi8YsO54--Zf4VJsWZjSs/img.jpg?width=980" id="b60fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f68bdfa39f915a4001b075f70e8b3acd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Graphic illustration of how the scientists hit the record.
Image by University of Tokyo.
Watch it go boom<iframe width="724" height="407" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hsu6FG_3adU" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""></iframe>
New research on Uranus' magnetosphere could help scientists learn about distant systems, and refine the ways they search for alien life.
Uranus has a “switch-like” magnetosphere that opens and closes once every rotation of the planet, exposing it to deadly solar winds, according to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.