As you know, migratory birds are well oriented in space, that is, they feel where the south is and where the north is. This ability is explained by the fact that they feel the Earth’s magnetic fields, that is, in fact, they have a compass built into the body. For a long time it was believed that only birds and some species of animals possess this “compass”. However, as a recent study shows, theoretically all living beings on Earth, including humans, are endowed with a “sixth sense”. The difference between us and birds lies only in the fact that this feeling is developed differently – for someone it is stronger, and for someone it is weaker, only at the molecular level. It is possible that the ability to sense magnetic fields once helped our ancestors to survive.
How do animals sense the Earth’s magnetic field?
The ability to sense magnetic fields is called magnetoreception. This ability is possessed not only by birds, but also by many fish, amphibians and reptiles. Since the mechanisms that are responsible for the “sixth sense” are hidden from our eyes, unlike other senses such as sight or, for example, hearing, it took scientists a long time to figure out how it works.
The fact that bacteria are able to sense magnetic fields and navigate them, scientists learned only in the 60s. The fact that fish and birds navigate by magnetic fields during migration became known only in the 1970s. But how exactly this happens, for a long time, scientists could not understand. Only in 2000, that is, more than twenty years later, a work was published that states that a certain molecule in which radical pairs are formed can be responsible for magnetoreception.
This molecule, called cryptochrome, is a receptor in the retinas of migratory birds. Not only can she perceive magnetism, but she is also susceptible to light. Moreover, there are suggestions that this molecule even uses quantum entanglement in its work. You can read more about what quantum entanglement is here.
The principle of operation of cryptochrome is as follows – when light hits it, one of its electrons occupies one of two rotating states. Each of these two states is affected differently by the geomagnetic field of our planet. By the way it affects, animals can navigate where the south is, and where the north is.
The presence of cryptochromes has long been the main explanation for how animals sense magnetic fields. But now British scientists seem to have discovered another mechanism that helps with this.
Do all animal cells sense a magnetic field?
A recent study showed that the cells of all living things contain a molecule that responds to magnetic fields. Of course, this does not mean at all that all living organisms are able to sense magnetic fields and navigate them in space, as birds or fish do. However, cells have this ability.
In their work, the researchers studied fruit fly cells. By manipulating their genes, the researchers discovered that the FAD (flavin adenine dinucleotide) molecule, which forms a radical pair with cryptochromes, is actually a magnetic receptor itself. The scientists report this in the journal Nature.
The most interesting thing is that this molecule is present in all cells. Moreover, the higher its concentration, the higher the likelihood that it will provide magnetic sensitivity even without cryptochromes. For example, in fruit flies, when the FAD is exposed to light, a radical pair of electrons is generated that are susceptible to a magnetic field. But when FAD works with cryptochromes, the sensitivity of the cell to the geomagnetic field increases.
It follows that cryptochromes are not the only magnetoreception receptor, hence cryptochromes are not as important for magnetoreception as previously suggested. From this discovery it also becomes clear why human cells are sensitive to magnetic fields in the laboratory – they have magnetoreception at least at the molecular level.
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But, unfortunately, we do not have a conscious sense of the magnetic field. True, earlier studies have shown that some people are still able to feel the magnetic field. But, in any case, this study will ultimately allow a better assessment of the effects of magnetic field exposure on humans.