Birds can orient themselves in flight thanks to the alteration of a quantum process that occurs inside the cells of the retina caused by the Earth’s magnetic field: this alteration allows them to detect the direction of the planet’s poles.
It has been discovered by research at the University of Tokyo, which experimented in the laboratory how a group of living and undisturbed cells reacted to successive exposures to artificial magnetic fields. The results of this research have been published in PNAS.
The first observations of biological magnetoreception revealed that, every time the cells perceive the magnetic field, the quantum process that occurs inside them is altered.
That quantum process was established in 2010, when Austrian scientists they discovered that the electrons involved in the sense of animal orientation followed a quantum behavior known as entanglement.
He quantum entanglement It is a mysterious quality of elementary particles that allows them to simultaneously share the same state: any modification in the state of one of these particles is reflected at the same time in the other, even though they are physically distant from each other.
Electronic entanglement This research has observed for the first time, live and direct, how magnetic fields influence the sense of animal orientation: they affect an exclusively quantum phenomenon, known as the spin states of electrons, and chemical reactions that involve pairs of radicals.
In the same way that the Earth orbits the Sun and also rotates around its axis, the electron orbits its atom and rotates in turn on itself, causing a property known as spin or angular momentum, which generates its own magnetic field.
When the magnetic receptors present in the retina of the animals’ eyes are activated by photons (which, in addition to light, carry any form of electromagnetic radiation), new molecules are generated whose atoms are endowed with single or solitary electrons, known as pair of radical (electrons): they behave according to quantum entanglement and share the same spin state, although they are separated from each other.
When magnetic fields alter this natural quantum process that occurs inside the cells of the retina, animals perceive it and detect the Earth’s magnetic field: they use it to guide their navigation.
First measure The researchers explain in this regard that, during the last 50 years, chemists have identified multiple reactions and specific proteins called cryptochromes that are sensitive to magnetic fields in laboratory experiments.
Biologists have even observed how genetic interference with cryptochromes in fruit flies and cockroaches can eliminate the insects’ ability to navigate by following geomagnetic signals.
Other research has indicated that the geomagnetic navigation of birds and other animals is sensitive to light.
However, no one has ever measured chemical reactions within a living cell that change directly due to a magnetic field. And this is the main result of the new research.
Other biological processes?
Other biological processes? Given that the quantum entanglement between the electrons of the atoms of the magnetoreceptor cells occurs spontaneously with a variable or flexible duration, the researchers consider that the influence of the Earth’s magnetic field, proven in this research, can also occur in other biological processes.
“The good thing about this research is to see that the relationship between the spins of two individual electrons can have an important effect on biology,” explains one of the authors of the research, Jonathan Woodward, in a release.
He adds: “We think we have extremely strong evidence that we have observed a purely quantum mechanical process that affects chemical activity at the cellular level.”
Researchers believe that the Earth’s magnetic field could have a broader biologically influence, so they are investigating its possible effect on other types of cells, as well as the influence it could have on human health and other cell moles.
Reference Cellular autofluorescence is magnetic field sensitive. Noboru Ikeya and Jonathan R. Woodward. PNAS January 19, 2021 118 (3) e2018043118. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2018043118
Foto superior: Ray Shrewsberry. Pixabay
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.