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How birds navigate: research team to model photochemical compass

By Staff

Washington, May 2 (UNI) It has long been known that birds and many other animals including turtles, salamanders and lobsters, use the Earth's magnetic field to navigate, but the nature of their global positioning systems has not been completely understood.

Devens Gust, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, states that "although the chemical magnetoreception mechanism for avian magnetic navigation has been discussed by many investigators, our research provides the first proof that this mechanism can actually function with magnetic fields as small as those of the Earth." Gust, who also is a faculty researcher in the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis at Arizona State University, says "the design, synthesis and a few initial magnetic field effect studies were done at Arizona State University in the context of artificial photosynthetic solar energy conversion.

The special molecules were originally synthesised as artificial photosynthetic reaction centers, being developed as chemical solar energy conversion systems. They were inspired by the way plants harvest sunlight, and had nothing whatsoever to do with bird navigation.

A related triad molecule was recently synthesised by Paul Liddell, assistant research professional working with Gust and the Moores, and studied by Hore and coworkers at the University of Oxford. The British researchers used lasers that sent out pulses of light lasting only one-thousand millionth's of a second to investigate the molecular properties. A major problem was to completely shield their experiments from the Earth's magnetic field.

Gust adds, "this research does not prove that birds actually use this mechanism, only that they could. But, there is a large body of research on birds that is consistent with the magnetoreception idea." UNI XC NC HT1230

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