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A magnetometer in the upper beak of birds?
Date:2/23/2010

This release is available in German.

FRANKFURT. Iron containing short nerve branches in the upper beak of birds may serve as a magnetometer to measure the vector of the Earth magnetic field (intensity and inclination) and not only as a magnetic compass, which shows the direction of the magnetic field lines. Already several years ago, the Frankfurt neurobiologists Dr.Gerta Fleissner and her husband Prof. Dr. Gnther Fleissner have discovered these structures in homing pigeons and have, in close cooperation with the experimental physicist Dr. Gerald Falkenberg (DESY Hamburg), characterized the essential iron oxides."After we had shown the system of dendrites with distinct subcellular iron-containing compartments in homing pigeons, immediately the question was posed whether similar dendritic systems may be found in other bird species, too", as Gerta Fleissner, the principal investigator, comments. Meanwhile they could describe similar candidate structures in the beaks of various avian species. X-Ray-fluorescence measurements at DESY demonstrated that the iron oxides within these nervous dendrites are identical. These findings were published few days ago in the high-ranking interdisciplinary online journal PlosOne.

More than about 500 dendrites in the periphery encode the magnetic field information, which is composed in the central nervous system to a magnetic map. It obviously does not matter, whether birds use this magnetic map for their long distance orientation or do not the equipment can be found in migratory birds, like robin and garden warbler, and well as in domestic chicken. "This finding is astonishing, as the birds studied have a different life styles and must fulfil diverse orientational tasks: Homing pigeons, trained to return from different release sites to their homeloft, short-distance migrants like robins, long-distance migratory bird
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Contact: Dr. Gerta Fleissner
fleissner@bio.uni-frankfurt.de
49-170-208-3495
Goethe University Frankfurt
Source:Eurekalert

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