There is a wealth of behavioral evidence for the ability of animals to orient themselves or navigate with the aid of the Earth's magnetic field. One of the simplest systems of magnetotaxis is found in certain north-seeking bacteria that have been found to contain linear chains of microscopic single magnetic domain-sized magnetite crystals (Fe3O4). The magnetite evidently is of biogenic origin (Bazylinski, 1990). In more complex magnetic-responding animals, magnetite has been detected in their brains or bodies, but no specific organ or neuron containing magnetite has yet been described.
Alternate models for magnetoreception (other than by magnetite-containing cells) have been suggested in which moving charged particles (ions leaking through membrane receptors, or being pumped into or out of neurons) might be affected by a dc magnetic field. The Hall effect, the Faraday streaming effect, and a Lorentz force model were described.
Much work has yet to be done to isolate and describe the ultrastructure and transducer mechanism of magnetosensing neurons, where they exist.
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