Molecular Action May Help Keep Birds on Course

Posted on May 5, 2008  Comments (1)

Molecular Action May Help Keep Birds on Course

Four decades after scientists showed that migratory birds use Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves during their seasonal journeys, researchers have at last found a molecular mechanism that may explain how they do it.

If the hypothesis is true, the planet’s magnetic field lines — which arch around Earth from north to south — may be plainly visible to birds, like the dashed line in the middle of a road.

The work, described online yesterday in the journal Nature, was conducted in a test tube and does not prove that birds actually use the mechanism. And researchers aligned with a competing model say they are not convinced.

But by identifying for the first time a molecule that reacts to very weak magnetic fields, the experiments prove the plausibility of a long-hypothesized method of avian navigation that has had a credibility problem because no one had ever found a molecule with the required sensitivity.

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One Response to “Molecular Action May Help Keep Birds on Course”

  1. Robin
    May 5th, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

    I’ve always wondered how birds know where to fly. This new hypothesis is exciting and I can’t wait to see if the research is duplicated and eventually proven. I wonder what other uses science will find for such a molecule.

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