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Subspecialties Retina, Basic & Translational Research

The Birds Have (Magnetic) Eyes

The seasonal migration of birds is fascinating – remarkable distances traveled with a mystifying ability to reach the intended destination. But now, an international collaboration of researchers may have identified the source of magnetoreception – the biological “compass” that guides birds through the Earth’s magnetic fields. When isolated and tested in the lab, the team found that the light-sensitive protein cryptochrome 4 (CRY4) from the retina of the European robin is sensitive to magnetic fields (1). Is this protein responsible for keeping songbirds on course during their seasonal relocation marathon? Study author Peter Hore, Professor at Oxford University, UK, explains: “To establish whether the cryptochrome hypothesis is the correct sensory mechanism, magnetic field effects on cryptochromes need to be measured in vivo to study the magnetic orientation of cryptochrome-deficient birds and/or to measure magnetic field effects on nerve impulses generated in the retina.”

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  1. J Xu et al., Nature, 594, 535 (2021). PMID: 34163056.
About the Author
Geoffrey Potjewyd

Associate Editor, The Ophthalmologist

The lion’s share of my PhD was spent in the lab, and though I mostly enjoyed it (mostly), what I particularly liked was the opportunity to learn about the latest breakthroughs in research. Communicating science to a wider audience allows me to scratch that itch without working all week only to find my stem cell culture has given up the ghost on the Friday (I’m not bitter). Fortunately for me, it turns out writing is actually fun – so by working for Texere I get to do it every day, whilst still being an active member of the clinical and research community.

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