These bacteria are controlled by magnetic fields

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Magnetotactic bacteria were first discovered back in 1975. They're microbes that orient themselves along magnetic fields, thanks to their compartments of tiny magnetic nanocrystals called magnetesomes (the orange circles in the picture above), which force the bacteria into magnetic alignment. Unlike larger animals that navigate along magnetic fields, these bacteria can't control their actions - even when they die, they remain perfectly aligned with magnetic lines. Even though we know these creatures have existed for billions of years, we've yet to truly understand how they produce those nanocrystals.

But now, by discovering a new magnetotactic species, researchers have gotten a clearer picture of how the bugs do it. These types of bacteria can generally produce either or both of two types of nanocrystals: magnetite (Fe3O4) or greigite (Fe3S4). The research team isolated a greigite-producing bacterium from Death Valley, and the new strain (called BW-1) generates one type of nanocrystal depending on the environment it grows in — the mechanisms for producing each crystal are controlled by two separate gene clusters.


So while this research doesn't take us any closer to explaining to juggalos how magnets work, it does give us a glimpse into the workings of a mysterious, ancient type of bacteria. Because so many creatures have evolved magnetoreception, this research could have much wider implications too.