South-Seeking Magnetotactic Bacteria in the Northern Hemisphere

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Science  20 Jan 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5759, pp. 371-374
DOI: 10.1126/science.1122843

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Magnetotactic bacteria contain membrane-bound intracellular iron crystals (magnetosomes) and respond to magnetic fields. Polar magnetotactic bacteria in vertical chemical gradients are thought to respond to high oxygen levels by swimming downward into areas with low or no oxygen (toward geomagnetic north in the Northern Hemisphere and geomagnetic south in the Southern Hemisphere). We identified populations of polar magnetotactic bacteria in the Northern Hemisphere that respond to high oxygen levels by swimming toward geomagnetic south, the opposite of all previously reported magnetotactic behavior. The percentage of magnetotactic bacteria with south polarity in the environment is positively correlated with higher redox potential. The coexistence of magnetotactic bacteria with opposing polarities in the same redox environment conflicts with current models of the adaptive value of magnetotaxis.

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