Crystals found in salmon noses could explain animals’ magnetic sense

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The individual salmon nose crystals are arranged in compact clusters, like small eggs. (Photo credit: Oregon State University)

Scientists understand that animals such as salmon, butterflies and birds have an innate magnetic sense, allowing them to use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate to places to feed and reproduce. A published study conducted by an assistant professor at the University University of Hawaii in Hilo shows that the magnetite crystals that form in the nose of salmon could be the key to understanding the sensory mechanisms that allow magnetic perception.

Renee Bellinger
Renee Bellinger

Renee BellingerAdjunct Assistant Professor of Bioinformatics and Genomics at uh Hilo led the team of international researchers who published their research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team points out that magnetite crystals that form inside specialized receptor cells in salmon and other animals may have roots in ancient genetic systems that were developed by bacteria and passed down to animals a long time ago. a long time ago by evolutionary genetics. The theory is based on new evidence from nanoscopic magnetic materials found in salmon nose cells.

“We have not been able to definitively prove that magnetite is the underlying key to magnetic perception in animals, but our study has revealed that associated genes are an important tool in finding new evidence for the potential functioning magnetic sensors,” Bellinger said. “Finding magnetic receptors is like trying to find a needle in a haystack… This work paves the way for the ‘needle’ to really shine so that we can more easily find and understand receptor cells. “

The article is published under Bellinger’s affiliation with Oregon State University, where she initiated this research as a doctoral student.

According to the researchers, the results may eventually lead to the preservation of the species and be applied to human applications, such as medicine or guidance technology.

uh high performance computing cloud

To help advance the genetic research elements in the study, Bellinger used the uh High performance computing service, called MANA (a free uh system-wide computing resource that supports computationally intensive data and research) to develop comparative genomics. She explained that the computing cloud is an important resource for genetic research, which typically involves datasets that are too large to analyze on a desktop computer.

“It was only a few years into my post-doc that it became possible to make comparisons between high-quality genomes, which happened due to technological advances in long-read sequencing,” she said.

Bellinger used long read data to sequence the ‘alalā (endangered Hawaiian Crow) as part of a project led by elders uh Hilo biologist Jolene Sutton. Recently, she sequenced the genome of Hawaiian Bidens, a plant famous for its adaptive radiation across the Hawaiian archipelago. the Biden genome project was in partnership with Matt Knopebiology teacher at uh Hilo who studied Biden for over a decade.

Bellinger’s co-authors include Michael Banks (Oregon State University), Jiandong Wei (Shanghai University), Uwe Hartmann (Saarland University), Herve Cadiou (Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience), and Michael Winklhofer (University of Oldenburg).

For more information go to uh Hilo Stories.

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