Every animal on Earth may harbor the molecular machinery for sensing magnetic fields, even those organisms that don’t navigate or migrate using this mysterious “sixth sense.”
Scientists working on fruit flies have identified a ubiquitous molecule in all living cells that can respond to magnetic sensitivity if it is present in large enough quantities or if other molecules assist it.
The new findings suggest that magnetic reception could be more common in the animal kingdom than we ever knew. If the researchers are right, it could be a surprisingly ancient trait shared by almost all living things, albeit with different powers.
This does not mean that all animals or plants can effectively sense and track magnetic fields, but it does indicate that all living cells, including our own.
How we sense the outside world, from vision and hearing to touch, taste and smell, is well understood. He says Neuroscientist Richard Baines of the University of Manchester.
“But by contrast, what animals can sense and how they respond to a magnetic field is still unknown. This study made a huge advance in understanding how animals sense and respond to external magnetic fields—a very active and contested field.”
magnetism It may sound like magic to us, but plenty of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and other mammals in the wild can sense the pull of Earth’s magnetic field and use it to navigate through space.
Since this force is essentially invisible to our species, it took a very long time for scientists to notice it.
Only in the sixties Have scientists shown that bacteria can sense magnetic fields and orient themselves in relation to those fields? In the 1970s, we found that some birds and fish follow the Earth’s magnetic field when migrating.
However, to this day it remains unclear how many animals achieve such amazing feats of navigation.
In the 1970s, scientists Proposal The sense of the magnetic compass can include radical pairs, which are particles with unpaired outer shell electrons that form a pair of entangled electrons whose rotation is changed by the Earth’s magnetic field.
Twenty-two years later, lead author of that study Co-author a new paper Propose a specific molecule in which radical pairs can form.
This molecule — a receptor in the retinas of migratory birds called cryptochrome — can sense light and magnetism, and appears to work through quantum entanglement.
In basic terms, when cryptochrome absorbs light, energy releases one of its electrons, causing it to occupy one of two spin states, each affected differently by the geomagnetic field.
Cryptochromes were a leading explanation for how animals sense magnetic fields over two decades, but researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Leicester have now identified another candidate.
By manipulating the genes of fruit flies, the team found that a molecule called Flavin Adenine Dinucleotide (FAD), which normally forms a radical pair with cryptochromes, is actually a magnetoreceptor in itself.
This essential molecule is found in various levels in all cells, and the higher the concentration, the greater the likelihood of transferring magnetic sensitivity, even in the absence of cryptochrome.
In fruit flies, for example, when FAD is stimulated by light, it generates a radical pair of electrons that respond to magnetic fields.
However, when cryptochromes coexist with FADs, the cell’s sensitivity to magnetic fields increases.
The results indicate that cryptochromes are not as essential as we thought for magnetic reception.
“One of our most surprising findings, which runs counter to current understanding, is that cells continue to ‘sense’ magnetic fields when a very small fraction of cryptochrome is present,” she said. Explain University of Manchester neuroscientist Adam Bradlow.
“This shows that cells can, at least in the laboratory, sense magnetic fields through other ways.”
This finding could help explain why human cells show sensitivity to magnetic fields in the laboratory. form of cryptochrome present in the cells of the retina demonstrated its ability to accept magnetoreception at the molecular level when expressed in fruit flies.
However, this does not mean that humans use this function, and there is no evidence that cryptochrome directs our cells to line up along magnetic fields in the laboratory.
FAD is probably the cause.
Although human cells exhibit sensitivity to the Earth’s magnetic field, we do not have a conscious sense of this strength. Perhaps this is because we do not have any help from Cryptochrome.
“This study may eventually allow us to better estimate the effects that magnetic field exposure may have on humans,” He says Genetic biologist Ezio Rosato of the University of Leicester.
Furthermore, since FAD and other components of these molecular machinery are present in many cells, this new understanding may open up new avenues of research into the use of magnetic fields to manipulate the activation of targeted genes. This is considered a holy grail as an experimental tool and possibly eventually for clinical use. “.
The study has been published in nature.