Word of the week: Magnetoception

Magnetoception: the ability to detect altitude, direction or location in several vertebrates, invertebrates and microorganisms.

Mukilan Suresh
17th November 2021
Ever wondered how homing pigeons navigate back home each time they venture out?  Then you might be interested in word of this week - magnetoception.  Homing pigeons can use magnetic perception as a part of their already excellent navigation skills. This ability to utilize magnetic field to detect altitude, direction or location is termed as magnetoception.

Magnetoception is not limited just to homing pigeons, but also extensively found in several vertebrates, invertebrates and microorganisms. Even though magnetoception is widely accepted in the scientific community, how an organism detects this is still widely debated as a physical sensory receptor has still not been identified.

In humans, until now there is an assumption that magnetoception is not present. Neuroscientists have studied the effect of Earth’s magnetic field on brain waves. Though this research yielded interesting results, further studies are required to establish concrete evidence. A protein in human eye (Cryptochrome) has made some scientists curious, as it might aid in magnetoception. 

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