Biological Compass

A protein complex discovered in Drosophila may be capable of sensing magnetism and serves as a clue to how some animal species navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field.


A variety of different animal species possess remarkable navigational abilities, using the Earth’s magnetic field to migrate thousands of miles every year or find their way home with minimal or no visual cues. But the biological mechanisms that underlie this magnetic sense have long been shrouded in mystery. Researchers in China may have found a tantalizing clue to the navigational phenomenon buried deep in the fruit fly genome. The team, led by biophysicist Can Xie of Peking University, discovered a polymer-like protein, dubbed MagR, and determined that it forms a complex with a photosensitive protein called Cry. The MagR/Cry protein complex, the researchers found, has a permanent magnetic moment, which means that it spontaneously aligns in the direction of external magnetic fields. The results were published today (November 16) in Nature Materials.

“This is the only known protein complex that has a permanent magnetic moment,” said Peter Hore, a physical chemist at the University of Oxford, U.K., who was not involved in the research. “It’s a remarkable discovery.”


Link to full article on The Scientist

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