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CeMoMagneto Report Summary

Project ID: 336724
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Austria

Mid-Term Report Summary - CEMOMAGNETO (The Cellular and Molecular Basis of Magnetoreception)

“What could be the physical force every-where present in the heights of the atmosphere as well as the depths of the oceans that could direct animals that migrate? In my opinion, there is one, and only one...... and that is the Earth’s magnetic field” (Viguier 1882).

These words articulated by Dr C. Viguier in 1882 were amongst the first to predict the existence of a magnetic sense, however almost nothing is known about the mechanisms that underlie this curious sensory faculty. The goal of this project is to gain insight into how animals detect the magnetic field, by using pigeons as a model system. We are interested in the idea that birds have a population of cells that have their own intracellular compass made of iron. To find this compass we are exploiting a variety of methods, including histological staining, magnetic resonance imaging, and magnetic cell sorting. We have discovered a population of sensory cells located in the ear of pigeons that have a single iron-rich structure which we call the "Cuticulosome". Employing state-of-the-art methods we are investigating whether this structure might function directly, or indirectly as a magnetic sensor in birds.

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