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Inside the Eye of Robins, Researchers Find Magnetic Field-Detecting Protein that Could Be Long-Sought Migration Sensor

Bird watchers may congratulate each other by saying “you have the eyes of a hawk”, but now they may mean “you have the eyes of a robin”.

European Robin by Greg Schechter, CC license on Flickr

Inside the European robin’s eye, scientists have identified a protein they believe acts as the bird’s biological attunement to Earth’s magnetic field, the key to the much-sought mechanism behind how they are able to migrate massive distances.

Whether at school or from parents, or watching Omaha Wild Kingdom Mutual Y Planet Earth, everyone learns that birds migrate, but you rarely learn how birds handle it.

Cryptochromes are not a new form of digital currency, but rather a group of light-sensitive flavoproteins found in the retinas of birds and other groups of animals. Cryptochrome 4 (cry4) is postulated in a new study be the organ behind the magnetosensitivity.

Following an experiment using quantum mechanics, The scientist reports that Oxford University researchers, searching for such a medium, were left with “overwhelming evidence that cry4 [is] the most attractive candidate. “

One of the reasons for this was that, of the other three cryptochromes in the robin’s eye, cry4 was the only one that bound to a particular molecule, giving it the ability to detect light, an important first step in the discovery of light. ability to detect magnetic fields. .

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In addition, unlike the other three that had a 24-hour response capacity, cry4 was not in tune with the day-night cycle, but rather had a seasonal variation, which in turn the other three did not.

Cryptochrome proteins in chickens and pigeons, birds that do not migrate, could not detect the magnetic field generated in the laboratory, further reinforcing the theory.

While there is still a debate about the conclusion, the theory is that cry4 detects the light and the position of the earth during the seasons. How does this create the ability to feel magnetism?

When linked with molecules, cry4s are known to create a pair of free radicals. These free radicles have unpaired electrons, causing them to jump along a chain of tryptophan amino acids. It was thought that it was the quantum spin of these radicles that gave the birds their ability to detect the earth’s magnetic fields, through a photochemical reaction.

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Theoretical and Computational Biophysics / UofI

Some Reddit commenters on the very moderate scientific forum, He suggested that half of Robin’s field of vision would have a different color tone than the other.

Research from the Theoretical Biophysics and Computing Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign produced a series of images after researcher Klaus Schulten first predicted magnetoreceptive cryptochromes years ago, postulating that they could provide a magnetic field “filter” over the bird’s field of view, as in the images above.

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Writing to The scientist, The authors of the article responded directly to colleagues who questioned the relevance of their findings and explained that none of the evidence presented to refute their findings was replicable in their laboratory.

So while there are currently unanswered questions, this chemical reaction created by the missing electrons appears to be the strongest existing theory for how birds can travel thousands of miles without getting lost.

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