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Compass in the ear: can animals sense magnetic fields with hair cells?

Abstract

The possibility of realization of magnetoreception in vertebrates with chains of magnetite nanocrystals (magnetosomes) attached to hair cells of the inner ear is evaluated. To this end, statistical mechanics is applied to analyze fluctuations of stereocilia bundles. Correlation functions of fluctuations of the bundle position and of the number of open mechanoreceptor channels are derived. The sensitivity threshold of the hair cell to applied forces is calculated. Its comparison with the force couple exerted by the magnetosome in the geomagnetic field suggests that a compass magnetoreceptor can be realized with ~ 100 specifically adapted hair cells. To the opposite, no viable magnetic map receptor is possible within this system.

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Acknowledgements

The author is grateful to M. I. Zhukovskaya for helpful discussions on sensory physiology. This work was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (grant 21-14-00158).

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Correspondence to K. V. Kavokin.

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Kavokin, K.V. Compass in the ear: can animals sense magnetic fields with hair cells?. Eur. Phys. J. Spec. Top. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1140/epjs/s11734-022-00654-y

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