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New 'magnetic yeast' marks step toward harnessing Nature's magnetic capabilities
Date:2/28/2012

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School have developed a method for inducing magnetic sensitivity in an organism that is not naturally magneticyeast. Their technology could potentially be used to magnetize a variety of different cell types in medical, industrial and research applications. The research findings appear in today's issue of PLoS Biology.

Magnetic fields are everywhere, but few organisms can sense them. Those that do, such as birds and butterflies, use magnetic sensitivity as a kind of natural global positioning system to guide them along migratory routes. How these few magnetically aware organisms gain their magnetism remains one of biology's unsolved mysteries.

Researchers Pamela Silver, Ph.D., and Keiji Nishida, Ph.D., were able to imbue yeast with similar properties. Silver, the principal investigator, is a founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute and a professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS). Nishida is a research fellow in Systems Biology at HMS.

"Magnetism in nature is a unique and mysterious biological function that very few living systems exploit," said Silver. "So while magnetic yeast may not sound like a serious scientific breakthrough, it's actually a highly significant first step toward harnessing this natural phenomenon and applying it to all sorts of important practical purposes."

The presence of iron can cause magnetism, but most cells, if exposed to this common metal, hide it away in sealed-off cavities where it cannot have an effect. Silver and Nishida were able to block expression of the protein that causes the iron sequestration, allowing the iron to circulate freely throughout the yeast cell. In this way, they created enough magnetic sensitivity in the cell to cause it to migrate toward an external magnet.

The researchers also found a gene that corre
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Contact: Twig Mowatt
twig.mowatt@wyss.harvard.edu
617-432-1547
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard
Source:Eurekalert

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