Davila, A.F., Fleissner, G., Winklhofer, M. and Petersen, N.
A new model for a magnetoreceptor in homing pigeons based on interacting clusters of superparamagnetic magnetite
Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A,B,C, 28, (16-19), . (doi:10.1016/S1474-7065(03)00118-9).
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We present a new model of magnetic-field reception in magnetite-containing nerve terminals, which have recently been identified in the upper-beak skin of homing pigeons. The potentially magnetoreceptive nerve cells comprise chain-like aggregates with up to 20 closely spaced clusters of superparamagnetic (SP) magnetite. We designed experiments on superparamagnetic model systems to simulate the behaviour of the aggregates in varying magnetic fields. Magnetic-field induced interactions between the clusters in an aggregate gives rise to attractive and repulsive forces between the clusters. The resulting stress on the surrounding cellular structures varies with field direction and intensity. Our model is able to explain the principal features of the magnetic sense in homing pigeons as derived from behavioural experiments.
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