Blue light protein helps flies tune in with Earth’’s field

July 29th, 2008 - 4:40 pm ICT by ANI  

University of Massachusetts

London , July 29 (ANI): Navigation in fruit flies has been attributed to a protein that detects blue light, which also helps fruit flies tune into the Earth’’s magnetic field, revealed a new study.

The knowledge about this weak field is vital for explaining the homing and migration abilities of many animals.

It was believed that when struck by blue light, proteins known as cryptochromes detect magnetic fields, perhaps by making charged molecules - called free radicals.

The amount of free radicals formed may depend on the strength of the field, indicating the creature’’s latitude. However, evidence from migratory warblers and salamanders has highlighted this connection only.

Led by Robert Gegear and Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts in Worcester , a team has now shown that fruit flies must have these proteins in order to perceive a magnetic field.

For their study, they constructed a T-shaped maze, which had a field roughly 10 times as strong as Earth’’s on one of its sides.

After the flies had learned to correlate the magnet with a sugar treat, they drifted towards the magnetised side even when no sugar was there. But those flies, who had an inactive version of cryptochrome, could not differentiate between the two sides.

While the experiment does not prove that other animals use the same proteins to navigate, the fruit flies could help researchers explain how the proteins work. It may also lead the researchers to know how migratory animals such as birds and butterflies make their way home. (ANI)

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