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September 14, 2020 - EurekAlert

Animals' magnetic 'sixth' sense may come from bacteria, new paper suggests

Animals' magnetic 'sixth' sense may come from bacteria, new paper suggests
Turtle on beach heading out to sea© Photabulous!

A University of Central Florida researcher is co-author of a new paper that may help answer why some animals have a magnetic "sixth" sense, such as sea turtles' ability to return to the beach where they were born.

The question is one that has been unresolved despite 50 years of research.

"The search for a mechanism has been proposed as one of the last major frontiers in sensory biology and described as if we are 'searching for a needle in a hay stack,'" says Robert Fitak, an assistant professor in UCF's Department of Biology, part of UCF's College of Sciences.

Fitak and researchers in the United Kingdom and Israel recently authored an article in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that proposes a hypothesis that the magnetic sense comes from a symbiotic relationship with magnetotactic bacteria.

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