Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Monarch butterflies reveal a novel way in which animals sense Earth's magnetic field

Date:
January 27, 2010
Source:
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Summary:
Building on prior investigation into the biological mechanisms through which monarch butterflies are able to migrate up to 2,000 miles from eastern North America to a particular forest in Mexico each year, neurobiologists have linked two related photoreceptor proteins found in butterflies to animal navigation using the Earth's magnetic field.

Monarch butterflies resting in a tree.
Credit: iStockphoto/Paul Tessier

Building on prior investigation into the biological mechanisms through which monarch butterflies are able to migrate up to 2,000 miles from eastern North America to a particular forest in Mexico each year, neurobiologists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) have linked two related photoreceptor proteins found in butterflies to animal navigation using the Earth's magnetic field.

The work by Steven Reppert, MD, professor and chair of neurobiology at UMMS; Robert Gegear, PhD, research assistant professor of neurobiology; Lauren Foley, BS; and Amy Casselman, PhD, was recently described in the journal Nature.

The research team used fruit flies engineered to lack their own Cryptochrome (Cry1) molecule, a UV/blue-light photoreceptor already known to be involved in the insects' light-dependent magnetic sense. By inserting into those deficient flies butterfly Cry1, a homolog of the fly protein, or the related butterfly protein Cry2, the researchers found that either form can restore the flies' magnetic sense in a light-dependent manner, illustrating a role for both Cry types in magnetoreception. "Because the butterfly Cry2 protein is closely related to the one in vertebrates, like that found in birds which use the Earth's magnetic field to aid migration," states Dr. Reppert, "the finding provides the first genetic evidence that a vertebrate-like Cry can function as a magnetoreceptor."

An interesting feature of the team's work disproved a widely held view about how these proteins can chemically sense a magnetic field. "These findings suggest that there is an unknown photochemical mechanism that the Crys use instead," says Dr. Gegear, lead author on the paper, "one that we are hotly pursuing."

One of the most exciting aspects of the work was showing that each of the two forms of butterfly Cry have the molecular capability to sense magnetic fields. Reppert's group is now developing behavioral assays to show that monarchs can actually use geomagnetic fields during their spectacular fall migration. "We believe we are on the trail of an important directional cue for migrating monarchs," states Reppert, "in addition to their well-defined use of a sun compass."

Reppert, who is also the Higgins Family Professor of Neuroscience at UMMS, has been a pioneering force in the effort to understand monarch butterfly navigation and migration. Earlier this year, he and colleagues demonstrated that a key mechanism of the sun compass that helps steer the butterflies to their ultimate destination resides not in the insects' brains, as previously thought, but in their antennae, a surprising discovery that provided an entirely new perspective of the antenna's role in insect migration.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Massachusetts Medical School. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gegear et al. Animal cryptochromes mediate magnetoreception by an unconventional photochemical mechanism. Nature, January 24, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/nature08719

Cite This Page:

University of Massachusetts Medical School. "Monarch butterflies reveal a novel way in which animals sense Earth's magnetic field." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125094645.htm>.
University of Massachusetts Medical School. (2010, January 27). Monarch butterflies reveal a novel way in which animals sense Earth's magnetic field. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125094645.htm
University of Massachusetts Medical School. "Monarch butterflies reveal a novel way in which animals sense Earth's magnetic field." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125094645.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 16, 2014) Crocodile farming has been a challenge in Zimbabwe in recent years do the economic collapse and the financial crisis. But as Ciara Sutton reports one of Europe's biggest suppliers of skins to the luxury market has come up with an unusual survival strategy - vegetarian food. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A research institute in Paris somehow misplaced more than 2,000 vials of the deadly SARS virus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Three Rare White Tiger Cubs Debut at Zoo

Raw: Three Rare White Tiger Cubs Debut at Zoo

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) The Buenos Aires Zoo debuted a trio of rare white Bengal tiger cubs on Wednesday. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins