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No swanning around

Researchers have discovered further details about a magnetic compass contained within the eyes of migratory birds

23 Feb 2018 by Selina Powell

Scientists have pinpointed the location of a magnetic compass within the eye that allows migratory birds to navigate.

A team of German and Danish researchers studied the European robin to uncover more information about how migratory birds complete journeys spanning thousands of kilometres without losing their way. Their research is published in Current Biology.

University of Southern Denmark theoretical physicist, Dr Ilia Solov'yov, highlighted that the magnetic compass in migratory birds is light dependent.

His research team is keen to find out which protein is at play.

"We believe that we have strong evidence to pinpoint the right magnetoreceptor molecule in migratory birds,” he added.

A cryptochrome, Cry4, is thought to be a likely contender as a protein that plays a key role within the navigation hub of a bird’s eye.

The protein has a higher expression level within the eyes of European robins during the migratory season than in the non-migratory season.

Cry4 is found in the outer segment of the double-cone photoreceptor cells.

The research involved more than 20,000 hours of computer work to determine the structure and location of the responsible protein within the birds’ eyes. 


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