Scientists in Germany have identified cytoskeletal structures and a gene that anchor magnetic crystals inside magnetobacteria, organisms that navigate Earth's magnetic field. The findings, which appeared online Sunday in Nature, could help elucidate other poorly understood biomineralization processes, such as those producing magnetic nanoparticles in higher organisms, senior author Dirk Schüler at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany, told The Scientist.

Magnetobacteria employ organelles known as magnetosomes, magnetite crystals enclosed in the membrane and arranged in chains that behave like compass needles. Higher organisms such as salmon and homing pigeons also possess magnetosome chains resembling those in bacteria. Recently, Schüler and his colleagues identified a cluster of at least 25 -- and possibly up to 100 -- genes in magnetobacterium Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense apparently involved in magnetite biomineralization and magnetosome formation.

During the current study, the researchers deleted mamJ, which encodes for a protein...

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