Magnets: Beyond Holding Things to Fridges


Some random but fascinating tidbits that I’ve learned while writing my comps today:

  • There are over fifty known sensory systems that have been identified in living things. Why, then, is a “sixth sense” seen as a far-out impossibility?
  • The genome of bacteria that can sense magnetic fields is only about 4.3 megabytes. All the information needed to create this organism could easily fit in an email attachment. The human genome is about 750 Mb. Bigger than a bacteria, but still smaller than Windows XP.
  • Magnetic structures, similar to those that allow the bacteria above to detect magnetic fields, have been found in a 4 billion year old meteorite from Mars. This is half a billion years older than the earliest known life on Earth. It suggests that the ability to detect magnetic fields may have been one of the first sensory systems to evolve, and that the ability to do so may have been brought to Earth from Mars.

While I still want to get this part of my comprehensive exams over with, it’s actually turning out to be pretty cool. My paper involves the following kickass things: Ghosts, hallucinations, Jesus, pigeon navigation, The Virgin Mary, ESP, psychokinesis, turtle navigation, mental patients, God, airplane crashes, whale suicide, lobster navigation, and now, Martians.

References:

Kirschvink, J. L., Walker, M. M., & Diebel, C. E. (2001). Magnetite-based magnetoreception. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 11, 462-467.

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