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Magnetic sensing by molecules, birds, and devices

Objective

The sensory mechanisms that allow birds to perceive the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field for the purpose of navigation are only now beginning to be understood. One of the two leading hypotheses is founded on magnetically sensitive photochemical reactions in the retina. It is thought that transient photo-induced radical pairs in cryptochrome, a blue-light photoreceptor protein, act as the primary magnetic sensor. Experimental and theoretical support for this mechanism has been accumulating over the last few years, qualifying chemical magnetoreception for a place in the emerging field of Quantum Biology.

In this proposal, we aim to determine the detailed principles of efficient chemical sensing of weak magnetic fields, to elucidate the biophysics of animal compass magnetoreception, and to explore the possibilities of magnetic sensing technologies inspired by the coherent dynamics of entangled electron spins in cryptochrome-based radical pairs.

We will:
(a) Establish the fundamental structural, kinetic, dynamic and magnetic properties that allow efficient chemical sensing of Earth-strength magnetic fields in cryptochromes.
(b) Devise new, sensitive forms of optical spectroscopy for this purpose.
(c) Design, construct and iteratively refine non-natural proteins (maquettes) as versatile model systems for testing and optimising molecular magnetoreceptors.
(d) Characterise the spin dynamics and magnetic sensitivity of maquette magnetoreceptors using specialised magnetic resonance and optical spectroscopic techniques.
(e) Develop efficient and accurate methods for simulating the coherent spin dynamics of realistic radical pairs in order to interpret experimental data, guide the implementation of new experiments, test concepts of magnetoreceptor function, and guide the design of efficient sensors.
(f) Explore the feasibility of electronically addressable, organic semiconductor sensors inspired by radical pair magnetoreception.

Field of science

  • /natural sciences/chemical sciences/analytical chemistry/spectroscopy
  • /natural sciences/chemical sciences/physical chemistry/photochemistry
  • /natural sciences/physical sciences/electromagnetism and electronics/electrical conductivity/semiconductor
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/biophysics
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/biochemistry/biomolecules/proteins
  • /medical and health sciences/clinical medicine/ophthalmology

Call for proposal

ERC-2013-ADG
See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

ERC-AG - ERC Advanced Grant

Host institution

THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
Address
Wellington Square University Offices
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 2 654 296
Principal investigator
Peter John Hore (Prof.)
Administrative Contact
Gill Wells (Ms.)

Beneficiaries (2)

THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
United Kingdom
EU contribution
€ 2 654 296
Address
Wellington Square University Offices
OX1 2JD Oxford
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Principal investigator
Peter John Hore (Prof.)
Administrative Contact
Gill Wells (Ms.)
THE TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA CORP
United States
EU contribution
€ 342 766
Address
3451 Walnut Street Room P 221
19104 Philadelphia
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Elizabeth Peloso (Ms.)