Finding the Way

A focus on the movements of species and disciplines through space, time, and minds

By | August 1, 2013

WIKIMEDIA COMMONSManhattanhenge was a bust last month, ruined by rain-filled clouds. This beautiful alignment of the setting sun along the east-west grid of Manhattan’s numbered streets received its Stonehenge-derived moniker from the personable astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who knows how to get people excited about all things planetary.

I know we’re still deep in the heat of summer, but even so, the potential of seeing the sunset perfectly framed between New York’s skyscrapers reminded me that the sunsets will occur earlier and earlier each night as the days grow shorter. When this issue is published, on August 1, some 2 minutes of daylight are already gone since the June solstice.

Shortening days are a reminder that in the coming months dozens of species—from birds to sea turtles to monarch butterflies—will begin to migrate, some over thousands of kilometers, making a beeline to their favored overwintering sites. How do they pull off such incredible feats? In this issue’s cover story, “A Sense of Mystery,” Associate Editor Dan Cossins reports on the latest research into how animals use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate to their migratory destinations. The story is complicated by contradictory evidence of where magnetism-sensing cells reside—the inner ear, the beak or nose, or the eye—and how they do their thing. Despite the many challenges of studying this enigmatic sixth sense, of which humans have no experience, Cossins writes that “there is a palpable sense of momentum” in the field.

Pathogens also migrate in mysterious ways. In a Thought Experiment essay that throws some light on how this happens, Andrew Dobson describes the cross-country spread of a bacterium that infects the eyes of house finches, its virulence level rapidly evolving to facilitate its dissemination. His take-home message is that pathogens can evolve “thousands of times more rapidly” than their hosts, but that such evolution is “very dependent upon whether the pathogen is competing in a local population or spreading and colo­nizing new areas.” Both insights obviously have important epidemiological implications.

The discipline of synthetic biology also seems to have evolved fairly rapidly. In “Engineering Life” (here), Ahmad Khalil, Caleb Bashor, and Timothy Lu, all veterans of the Boston University laboratory headed by Jim Collins, one of the field’s founders, describe synthetic biology’s present status as “preindustrial” and offer advice about how it can become a full-fledged engineering discipline. To get there, the authors maintain, synthetic biologists must explore life in its full context, in addition to building it, and take a few lessons from nature.  “Evolution has shaped the design of natural systems through iterative ‘tuning,’ whereby biological parts have been introduced, modified, and assembled over and over again to arrive at systems that are optimized for both function and context,” they write. “In considering how to engineer functions in living cells, the only unifying design rules may be those gleaned from the blueprints provided by nature.”

The success of synthetic biology may depend on a careful reading and editing of nature’s handbook, but Dorion Sagan thinks that too closely identifying with nature as we know it is the reason earthlings have such problems envisioning “aliens who are truly aliens”—rather, we simply see slightly warped reflections of ourselves. You can read his thoughts on the issue in a Reading Frames essay, “Intelligent Life: The Search Continues” here. Which will be the perfect prelude to selecting one of the fun-to-read summer fiction books reviewed here.

Enjoy the long summer evenings while they last. And as you look to the skies, watch for migratory passersby guided by forces we can’t feel, and perhaps even allow yourself to imagine life-forms we’ve not yet seen.

Mary-Beth Aberlin  Editor-in-Chief

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You



Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo


Avatar of: Alexandru


Posts: 89

August 6, 2013

This is a very interesting article for me!

I found here on The Scientist a set of articles about the capacity of the living organisms orientation trough bio-magnetic sensors.


"The success of synthetic biology may depend on a careful reading and editing of nature’s handbook." (Mary-Beth Aberlin )

. “Evolution has shaped the design of natural systems through iterative ‘tuning,’ whereby biological parts have been introduced, modified, and assembled over and over again to arrive at systems that are optimized for both function and context.” ( veterans of the Boston University )

Do the biologists want to find the Way for adaptable synthetic biology?

Please, let me to explain why the bio-GPS is indispensable for the better adaptation of the synthetic creatures in the nature.

Even spatial communication affects people every day, we can break the barriers in spatial interactions and bio-communications understanding only by introducing interdisciplinary studies. The fluidity of space constraints is an integral part of spatial magnetic communication, but they are rigid in accordance with the signal frequency.

Because it's very low frequency, the magnetic mental signal may radiate as far as 200 feet around the living body and it hasn't got the capacity to penetrate the space at long distances.

To really penetrate the space at long distance we need very high frequency equipments as exist in telecommunications.

Have you looked at the mitochondria physical structure through the eyes of the engineer specialized in spatial communications?

I am sure you have not and, please, do not :"be extremely skeptical about the existence of magnetoreceptors in any organism" (T S Raman comment)

"The field of magnetoreception has been hindered by the fact that many findings have proven very difficult to replicate" (Mouritsen), because the bio-magnetoreceptors are controled by the brain. I am sure that there is an internal communication channel between the brain and the bio-antennas as exist in the satellite telecommunications systems (LMSC - learning management system control). Please, read the result of my research about "this enigmatic sixth sense" introduced by mitochondrial DNA "magnetoreceptors":


Abstract: Brain and soul storming - The necessary and sufficient processes to a well function of the human body are meticulous arranged by specific organizational cells, so called process bio-managers, using interconditioned procedures, transmitted through three ways of communication: chemical or “protein channel”, electrical or “ion channel” and mitochondrial or “EMF wireless channel”. The third type is out of the visible and measurable spectrum and raises a new challenge to the scientist. For this type of bio communication we bring a new theoretical hypothesis, based on the managerial multidisciplinary analysis of a cybernetic model proposed by us, by simulating the human body function with the virtual computerized system based on the management of its total knowledge and its perfect quality way of function. The main bricks used for this virtual construction are: the brain, as main bio-processor, and Eve mtDNA and Adam mtDNA, as bio-antennas. This assembly of the total knowledge, build with “brain reasoning, biological feeling, and unlimited soul feeling”, is called by us “main decision triangle, IQ-EQ-CQ”. The main principle of the management of the total knowledge imposes us to not neglect the information produced by man during the time, even if it seems creasy at the beginning (see brainstorming definition). Because in the natural fertilisation the spermatozoids are naturally equipped with the paternal mtDNA (it looks like reflex klystron power amplifier, KPA = a veritable main bio-GPS), we consider that the paternal mitochondria DNA have a very important role in the evolution of the human being life quality and we have developed a new hypothesis, “Adam mtDNA theory”, in addition to “Eve mtDNA theory”. Keywords: brain, mitochondria, maternal, paternal

Popular Now

  1. A Newly Identified Species Represents Its Own Eukaryotic Lineage
  2. Telomere Length and Childhood Stress Don’t Always Correlate
  3. Optogenetic Therapies Move Closer to Clinical Use
  4. Research Links Gut Health to Neurodegeneration
    The Nutshell Research Links Gut Health to Neurodegeneration

    Rodent studies presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting this week tie pathologies in the gastrointestinal tract or microbiome composition with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.