All living cells could have the molecular machinery for a magnetic ‘sixth sense’

By | February 26, 2023

Science Alert reports:

Every animal on Earth may house the molecular machinery to sense magnetic fields, even those organisms that don’t navigate or migrate using this mysterious ‘sixth sense’.

Scientists working on fruit flies have now identified a ubiquitous molecule in all living cells that can respond to magnetic sensitivity if it is present in high enough amounts or if other molecules assist it.

The new findings suggest that magnetoreception could be much more common in the animal kingdom than we ever knew. If researchers are right, it might be an astonishingly ancient trait shared by virtually all living things, albeit with differing strengths.

That doesn’t mean all animals or plants can actively sense and follow magnetic fields, but it does suggest that all living cells might, including ours.

“How we sense the external world, from vision, hearing through to touch, taste, and smell, are well understood,” says neuroscientist Richard Baines from the University of Manchester.

“But by contrast, which animals can sense and how they respond to a magnetic field remains unknown. This study has made significant advances in understanding how animals sense and respond to external magnetic fields – a very active and disputed field.”

Magnetoreception might sound like magic to us, but plenty of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and other mammals in the wild can sense the tug of Earth’s magnetic field and use it to navigate space. [Continue reading…]

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