‘Magnetic’ sixth sense of animals may be from bacteria, new paper reveals

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Researchers at the University of Central Florida are co-authors of a new paper that may help answer why some animals have a magnetic ‘sixth’ sense, such as the ability of sea turtles to return to the beach Where they were born.

The question is one that remains unresolved despite 50 years of research.

“The discovery of the mechanism has been proposed as one of the last major limitations in sensory biology and is described as such,” says Robert Fitk, an assistant professor in UCF’s biology department. ” Part of UCF College of Sciences.

Fitk and researchers from the United Kingdom and Israel wrote in a recent article Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B This proposes a hypothesis that magnetic sense comes from a symbiotic relationship with magnetotactic bacteria.

Magnetotactic bacteria are a special type of bacteria whose motion is affected by magnetic fields including those of the Earth.

Animals that understand the Earth’s magnetic field include sea turtles, birds, fish and shrimp fishes. Sea turtles, for example, can use the ability of navigation to return to the beach where they were born.

Learning how organisms interact with magnetic fields can improve humans’ understanding of using the Earth’s magnetic field for their own navigation purposes. It may also inform ecological research into the effects of human modifications of magnetic environments such as the construction of electric lines on biodiversity. Research into the interactions of animals with magnetic fields can also aid in the development of therapies that use magnetism for drug delivery.

In the article, the researchers present arguments for and against the hypothesis, presenting published evidence in support that has arisen over the years, as well as presenting their own new supporting evidence.

Their new evidence comes from Fit, who mined one of the largest genetic databases of microorganisms known as metabolomic rapid annotations for the presence of magnetotactic bacteria for the presence of magnetotactic bacteria that Was found in animal specimens.

Previous microbial diversity studies have often focused on larger patterns of presence or absence of bacterial phyla in animals rather than specific species.

“The presence of these magnetotactic bacteria was largely ignored, or largely ‘lost in the mud’ of these datasets.”

Fitk first discovered that magnetotactic bacteria are associated with many animals, including a penguin species, loggerhead sea turtles, bats, and Atlantic right whales.

For example, Candatatus magnetobacterium barvicum is regularly found in penguins and loggerhead sea turtles, while Magnetospirillum and magnetococcus are routinely found in mammal species such as brown bats and Atlantic right whales.

Fitk says researchers still don’t know where magnetotactic bacteria live in the animal, but it may be that they will be attached to nerve tissue, like the eye or brain.

“I am working with co-authors and local UCF researchers to develop a genetic test for these bacteria, and we will later explore different animals and specific tissues, such as sea turtles, fish, shiny lobsters and birds. Do the screening, ”says Fitk.

Prior to joining UCF in 2019, Fitak worked at Duke University for over four years as a postdoctoral researcher and using modern genomic techniques to identify genes related to magnetic sense in fish and lobsters Conducted experiments.

He stated that the hypothesis that animals use a magnetic sense warrants magnetic understanding warrants a cogent way to gain further exploration but still requires more evidence before anything is conclusive.

The new study found genetic evidence that magnetic navigation guides loggerhead sea turtles

more information:
Aviar Natan et al, Symbiotic magnetic sensing: Evidence gathering and beyond, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2020). DOI: 10.1098 / rstb.2019.0595

Provided by the University of Central Florida

Quotes: The ‘magnetic’ sixth sense of animals may come from bacteria, new paper states (2020, 14 September) from https://phys.org/news/2020-09-animals-magnetic-sixth-bacteria-paper 14 September Retrieved 2020.html

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