Tel-Hai Magazine - Fall 2020

Ground breaking new study identifies Magnetotactic bacteria in animals, strengthening controversial symbiotic magnetic sensing hypothesis

How exactly do animals, especially migratory birds, navigate across vast reaches of the earth to their precise seasonal abodes? One hypothesis is that they utilize the earth’s magnetic field to navigate through the air, land and sea. But in spite of numerous studies indicating animals do indeed sense the geomagnetic field, the identity of the magnetic sensor remains enigmatic – “a sense without a sensor”. Recently Dr. Natan from Oxford University and Dr. Vortman from Tel-Hai College raised an exciting new hypothesis: that the sensor lies not in the animals themselves, but in symbiotic magnetotactic bacteria - a group of bacteria characterized by possessing an “iron needle” which causes them to swim along with the magnetic field. Animals hosting such bacteria, might just sense the bacteria and acquire a

“magnetic sense” indirectly, without possessing any magnetic sensing capability of their own. This hypothesis offers a satisfying resolution to the often contradictory and puzzling results of previous research - and also explain how this much touted sensor has yet to be found. The gap in this neat hypothesis, however is that no magnetotactic bacteria have been identified within animal samples – up to now. In this new contribution, researchers from the UK, University of Central Florida USA, and Tel-Hai College Israel (Natan, Fitak, Werber and Vortman), show that since the hypothesis has been raised, new, previously neglected findings have come to light.

Magazine, Fall 2020

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