Animals

Magnetic bacteria help animals navigate the globe

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Some animals just know where to go: Sea turtles make their way back to the beach where they were born and birds migrate over thousands of miles to the same breeding grounds.

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The secrets behind this seemingly magical navigation aren’t completely solved, but researchers know that some animals are actually tuned in to Earth’s magnetic field.

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Being aligned with Earth’s magnetic field means they have an internal compass that can help them navigate the globe.

Now, scientists have found that it could actually be a magnetic-field-oriented bacteria that gives animals this “sixth sense.”

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These bacteria carry nano-sized chains for iron-sulfide or iron-oxide, like tiny refrigerator magnets.

A group of scientists wondered whether these bacteria were responsible for giving animals like birds, sea turtles, and fish the ability to sense Earth’s magnetic field.

Alissa Eckert/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

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The researchers looked at an enormous database of bacteria that’s been associated with different animals, and found that magnetotactic bacteria have been found with animals that can sense Earth’s magnetic field.

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Although they aren’t sure exactly where on the animal the bacteria would reside, the researchers guess that they would be associated with nerve tissue, like around the eye or brain.

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Before they can conclude that animals actually do rely on these magnetotactic bacteria, the researchers suggest doing genetic testing to identify specific species of bacteria found on magnetic-field-sensing animals.

Read more animal stories here.

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