This mysterious ability, called magnetoreception, is something that helps animals to migrate long enough, or even to find their home, and is such a feeling Which is evident in many species, whether feathers, furries, or fines.
For humans, well, we may also have the ability to assume magnetic fields, although the evidence so far is scant – and even in animals, the exact origin of this magnetic awareness is faded and esoteric.
“The discovery of a mechanism has been proposed as one of the last major limitations in sensory biology,” explains wildlife genomicist Robert Fitk of the University of Central Florida.
In a new study, Fitk and his co-authors reviewed evidence for a possible basis for animal magnetism, although it is worth noting that the proposed idea is largely hypothetical.
The most established explanations for detecting animals’ magnetic fields revolve around two central hypotheses. One of these is cryptocurrency, a class of proteins that is sensitive to light, and which is thought to help some animals see magnetic fields.
The second hypothesis is magnetite-based magnetism, in which iron crystal clusters in animal bodies enable the detection of magnetic fields.
However, despite much research, none of these answers are entirely conclusive, and as Fitk and his co-authors suggest, there is another possibility altogether: a compass made of germs.
According to the researchers, it is possible that animals can sympathetically detect magnetic fields through bacteria living inside them – specifically, magnetotactic bacteria (MTBs), due to a series of magnetic structures inside their bodies called magnetosomes Magnetic fields orient themselves along the lines.
In a study published in 2017, members of Fitk’s team proposed that these may be small magnetic germs that reduce magnetism in large animals, through some type of mutually beneficial relationship. This inner thought is very beautiful, and as researchers have acknowledged, their hypothesis is part of the criticisms.
Chief among them were the lack of empirical evidence for the existence of such symbiosis, as well as questions about the prevalence of symbiotic MTB, and how animals may communicate with these magnetic bugs.
In the new study, researchers seek to address those cases as well as introduce new evidence to support their case. Most importantly, they point to a study from last year that uncovered logistical evidence of mutual symbiosis between MTB and micro-marine protists differently in aquatic environments thanks to small magnetic transients on their bodies. Can navigate.
Researchers call it “the first conclusive experimental support”, supporting their hypothesis, but their own new findings also appear to strengthen their case.
Wandering through a database of genetic information on microbes, the team found that magnetotactic bacteria, once thought to be rare, are actually much more common in animal microbiomes than we felt, with only their presence so far undiscovered has been done.
“MTBs are not an anecdote of nature, but in fact, MTBs are ubiquitous in aquatic and anaerobic environments and have a global distribution,” the authors state in their paper.
As the team acknowledges, none of the new evidence directly confirms that the tiny, magnet-rich germs that live inside animals are those that give their hosts the amazing ability to navigate through magnetic fields. But this is an argument that seems ever more compelling, the more we dig it.
“The symbiotic magnetic sensing hypothesis is still a hypothesis,” said evolutionary biologist Yoni Vortman, researchers at the Tell-High Academic College in Israel Brussels times.
“We are now in the midst of experimenting with many species of birds, testing whether antibiotics will affect their magnetic sense … We think this is valid throughout the tree of life, unicellular organisms (protists) From, to flatworms (planets), to birds. And reptiles. ”
The findings are stated in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.