Found - bacteria with strange magnetic personality
Feb 24, 2006 - 2:25:37 AM

Researchers have reported the discovery of a bacterium with strange magnetic properties - it tends to swim towards south magnetic pole while being in the northern hemisphere.

While 'Magnetotactic bacteria' are known to swim toward geomagnetic north in the northern hemisphere and geomagnetic south in the southern hemisphere, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Iowa State University have found a bacterium in New England that does just the opposite: a northern hemisphere creature that swims south.

Because this behaviour doesn't make sense in the natural environment of the bacteria, where swimming south would take them away from areas with their preferred oxygen level, the researchers believe there must be other explanations for why some magnetotactic bacteria swim in particular directions, notes an MIT release.

The team dubbed the bacterium the barbell for its appearance. In a study reported in a recent issue of Science, they describe how they used genetic sequencing and other laboratory techniques to identify the barbell, which was found coexisting with other previously described magnetotactic bacteria in Salt Pond on Cape Cod.

Magnetotactic bacteria are found throughout the world in chemically stratified marine and freshwater environments, said lead author Sheri Simmons, a graduate student of the MIT.

Simmons and colleagues studied the bacterium under laboratory conditions and say the behaviour in natural environment could be different from its laboratory behaviour. Their results, however, suggest new models are needed to explain how these magnetotactic bacteria behave in the environment.

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