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Biogeomagnetism is about the interactions of organisms with the geomagnetic field. Nikolai Petersen has established this research in Munich in the early 1980ies, when discovering magnetic bacteria in deep-sea sediments. Since 1995 we got into the biophysical mechanisms of magnetic-field reception in higher organisms. The research topics investigated are truly interdisciplinary and so we have begun to collaborate with internationally recognised experts in the fields of microbiology, biophysics and neurophysiology.

More specifically, we are concerned with the following topics:

Magnetic Bacteria

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Magnetobacterium bavaricum

Photo: Marianne Hanzlik

Discovered in 1975, these microorganisms can be found in most aquatic habitats and are characterized by intracellularly synthesized ferrimagnetic crystals, so-called magnetosomes (grain-size about 50 nm). The crystals, usually consisting of magnetite, are arranged in the form of one or several chains. Such a magnetosome chain can be thought of as a microscopic compass needle, which makes the bacterium swim along magnetic field lines.

Migratory birds and other migrating animals can use the Earth's magnetic field for orientation in their long-distance travels. The biophysical mechanism underlying this remarkable treat are however not known thus far. We managed to identify a structural candidate for the magnetic-field receptor in the beak of homing pigeons and at the moment try to magnetically characterize the magnetic material which forms the core of the magnetoreceptor (in collaboration with Uwe Hartmann, Saarbrücken). We have started to apply the same methodology to zebra fish and trout to localize a magnetic-field receptor in fish (with Denis Scherbakov, Uni Stuttgart Hohenheim).

Since 1995 we have been collaborating with Valera Shcherbakov (Russ. Academy of Science) on theoretical biophysical models of magnetic-field reception.

by Michael Winklhofer last modified 13. Oct 2018 13:06
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Printed 21. May 2019 15:34