Welcome to the new version of CaltechAUTHORS. Login is currently restricted to library staff. If you notice any issues, please email coda@library.caltech.edu
Published February 2020 | Published
Journal Article Open

On the origin of microbial magnetoreception


A broad range of organisms, from prokaryotes to higher animals, have the ability to sense and utilize Earth's geomagnetic field—a behavior known as magnetoreception. Although our knowledge of the physiological mechanisms of magnetoreception has increased substantially over recent decades, the origin of this behavior remains a fundamental question in evolutionary biology. Despite this, there is growing evidence that magnetic iron mineral biosynthesis by prokaryotes may represent the earliest form of biogenic magnetic sensors on Earth. Here, we integrate new data from microbiology, geology and nanotechnology, and propose that initial biomineralization of intracellular iron nanoparticles in early life evolved as a mechanism for mitigating the toxicity of reactive oxygen species (ROS), as ultraviolet radiation and free-iron-generated ROS would have been a major environmental challenge for life on early Earth. This iron-based system could have later been co-opted as a magnetic sensor for magnetoreception in microorganisms, suggesting an origin of microbial magnetoreception as the result of the evolutionary process of exaptation.

Additional Information

© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of China Science Publishing & Media Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Received: 07 March 2019; Revision received: 16 May 2019; Accepted: 20 May 2019; Published: 21 May 2019. W.L. and Y.P. acknowledge financial support from the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA17010501) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) (41621004). W.L. acknowledges support from the NSFC (41822704) and the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. J.L.K. is supported by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exobiology (EXO14_2-0176). G.A.P. acknowledges support from the NSFC (41574063) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Independent Research Fellowship (NE/P017266/1). D.A.B. is supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) (EAR-1423939).

Attached Files

Published - nwz065.pdf


Files (1.1 MB)
Name Size Download all
1.1 MB Preview Download

Additional details

August 19, 2023
October 20, 2023