A research team headed by scientists of Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has published a new model in ‘Nature Communications’ which allows studying magnetoreception. Analyzing zebrafish and medaka fish allowed the researchers to measure brain activity during magnetic stimulation and to show that the sense also works in darkness.
Magnetoreception refers to the ability of some animals to sense Earth’s magnetic field and make use of it for navigation. Still, the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. “To solve this question might not only satisfy neuroscientific curiosity but also lead to new molecular methods”, said Prof. Dr. Gil Gregor Westmeyer.
He is the principal investigator of the study at the interface of neuroscience and molecular imaging, and his team is affiliated both with Helmholtz Zentrum München and TUM. “Reverse-engineering the magnetoreceptor may lead to synthetic biology techniques for remotely controlling molecular processes with magnetic fields.” To reach this goal, Westmeyer and his team wanted to establish a model to study magnetoreception.
The scientists focused their work on zebrafish, and distally related medaka fish because they are vertebrate animals that can be genetically addressed and analyzed well under the microscope.* The researchers found that adult fish of both species change their swimming trajectories in response to a change in the direction of the Earth magnetic field that was experimentally introduced while carefully controlling for confounding variables. Interestingly, this effect also occurred in the absence of visible light such that a photon-independent mechanism has to be assumed.
"In this model, we can now look for previously unidentified magnetoreceptor cells, which our behavioral experiments predicted would involve magnetic material", said co-first author Ahne Myklatun, a graduate student in the Westmeyer laboratory.
In addition, the researchers were able to show a similar magnetic field-dependent effect in young fish larvae. "This is a decisive advantage because in their early developmental stages, the fish are still almost transparent", said Antonella Lauri, a postdoctoral fellow and joint lead author. "Thus, we can use imaging techniques to study the brain of the fish during behavioral runs with changing magnetic fields.” The scientists were already able to identify a candidate region in the brain - a track that could now lead to the unknown magnetic receptor cells.
Gil Gregor Westmeyer, principal investigator on this ERC-funded study, concludes: "Magnetoreception is one of the few senses whose mechanism is not understood. The kind of multidisciplinary work we present here will ultimately lead to an understanding of the biophysical mechanism of magnetoreception and its underlying neuronal computation. These findings could also offer interesting approaches to engineer biological systems for the remote control of molecular processes with magnetic fields.”
* Recently, Westmeyer and his team have successfully developed a new microscope. The so-called NeuBtracker (NeuBtracker.org) is an open source microscope that allows observing neuronal activities in zebrafish without perturbing their behavior.
In the long term, the team would like to use the findings to develop novel techniques involving magnetogenetics, an innovative research program that could probably also play a role in the new Helmholtz Pioneer Campus (HPC). Here, researchers from various disciplines want to work together on new solutions to medical needs. "For example, in the diabetes context, it would be conceivable to develop cells that are induced by a magnetic impulse to produce insulin," says Westmeyer.
Prof. Dr. Gil Gregor Westmeyer is affiliated with the Institutes for Biological and Medical Imaging (IBMI) and Developmental Genetics (IDG) at Helmholtz Zentrum München. He is professor of molecular imaging at the Nuclear Medicine Department and a member of the Munich School of Bioengineering (MSB) of the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The study was conducted in close cooperation with scientists at the University of Oldenburg, the University of Hohenheim and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU).
Myklatun, A. & Lauri, A. et al. (2018): Zebrafish and medaka offer insights into the neurobehavioral correlates of vertebrate magnetoreception. Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03090-6
The Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors , and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich and has about 2,300 staff members. It is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. http://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/en
The Institute for Biological and Medical Imaging (IBMI) conducts research into in vivo imaging technologies for the biosciences. It develops systems, theories and methods of imaging and image reconstruction as well as animal models to test new technologies at the biological, preclinical and clinical level. The aim is to provide innovative tools for biomedical laboratories, for diagnosis and the therapeutic monitoring of human diseases. http://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/ibmi
Rising life expectancy is causing an increase in age-related, but also sociological and environmental, influences on the genes. The Institute of Developmental Genetics (IDG) examines these changes in genetic material. In the Mouse Genetics group, genetic animal models are developed to investigate various diseases. These models are analyzed in the Disease Modelling research group to identify gene functions and cell processes and evaluate the influence of the environment and aging processes. The group focuses on the examination of neurological and psychiatric diseases. http://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/idg
Technical University of Munich (TUM) is one of Europe’s leading research universities, with more than 500 professors, around 10,000 academic and non-academic staff, and 40,000 students. Its focus areas are the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences and medicine, combined with economic and social sciences. TUM acts as an entrepreneurial university that promotes talents and creates value for society. In that, it profits from having strong partners in science and industry. It is represented worldwide with a campus in Singapore as well as offices in Beijing, Brussels, Cairo, Mumbai, San Francisco, and São Paulo. Nobel Prize winners and inventors such as Rudolf Diesel, Carl von Linde, and Rudolf Mößbauer have done research at TUM. In 2006 and 2012 it won recognition as a German "Excellence University." In international rankings, TUM regularly places among the best universities in Germany. http://www.tum.de/en/homepage
Contact for the media:
Department of Communication, Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg - Tel. +49 89 3187 2238 - Fax: +49 89 3187 3324 - E-mail: email@example.com
Scientific Contact at Helmholtz Zentrum München:
Prof. Dr. Gil Westmeyer, Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health, Institute for Biological and Medical Imaging, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg - Tel. +49 89 3187 2123, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sonja Opitz | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
One step closer to reality
20.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie
The dark side of cichlid fish: from cannibal to caregiver
20.04.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy