Researchers at the Medical School of the University of Massachusetts, led by neuroscience and neurobiology professor Steven Reppert, who published their study in the journal Nature communications, according to the BBC and The New York Times, discovered that a protein in the retina of the human eye can perceive magnetic fields.
The unexpected discovery opens once again a neglected chapter of the biology of consciousness that has to do with the so-called “magnetic sense”. In all the animals of our planet, the photosensitive chemical reactions involve an ancient protein, the flavoprotein (cryptochrome), which plays an important role in understanding the Earth’s magnetic field. Experiments on Drosophila flies have shown that these proteins function as light-dependent magnetic sensors.
The new research showed that the human cryptochrome protein hCRY2 provides a similar magnetic sensory ability. The researchers created a mutant fly, which, thanks to an added human gene, produced the corresponding human cryptochrome protein instead of producing its own flavoprotein. As it turned out, the fly still could perceive magnetic fields.
The experiment revealed that the human protein hCRY2has an inherent molecular ability to function as a magnetic sensory system, which can pave the way for further research of the unknown magnetic senses in human.
However, scientists have not managed yet to agree whether and at which degree people can sense the Earth’s magnetic field. But there are some indications that geomagnetism affects our visual system of light perception. But whether the human eye functions as a magnetic “compass” is still an enigma.
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