Do Humans Have a Sixth Sense? (No, not ESP…)

Research has shown that many organisms possess magnetoreception.  They are able to sense the Earth’s magnetic field.  This has been observed in creatures ranging from bacteria to mammals.  Pigeons and bats use the ability to orient themselves.  Birds and insects use it to migrate.  Deer and cattle graze along the north-south axis.  Mice use it to build nests.  Dogs even use it to poop.  (That’s why they turn around in circles.)

There are two prevailing theories about how they are able to do this.  One theory attributes it to cryptochromes, light-sensitive molecules found in the retina.  The other theory credits magnetite, a magnetic iron material found in some cells.

Both cryptochromes and magnetite have been found in humans, but scientists are undecided whether humans possess this sixth sense.  A researcher from the California Institute of Technology recently claimed that he has identified human magnetoreception, but his findings have not yet been reviewed or verified.

Can you “sense” directions without a compass?  Now you know why!

Agilent technologies and solutions have been used to study magnetoreception, magnetite and cryptochromes.

Researchers in Poland used magnetic field stimulation on lupin to study its effect on the biochemical processes of plant tissues.  They used an Agilent Cary UV-Vis spectrophotometer to measure chlorophyll photosynthesis.

Researchers in the U.S. and Canada studied how bacteria use subcellular magnetite crystals to orient in the Earth’s geomagnetic field.  Their work included E. coli protein expression strains supplied by Agilent.

Researchers in the U.S. and Europe studied cryptochromes’ role in the circadian clock and major hormonal circuits of mice.  They used an Agilent Bioanalyzer system to assess RNA purity.

And two separate research studies found that because cryptochromes regulate circadian timing and mediate hormone signaling, they can influence susceptibility to hormone-related cancers, including breast cancer.  Both studies used Agilent whole-genome microarrays.


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