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South-seeking Magnetotactic Bacteria in the Southern Hemisphere
  • R. P. Blakemore, University of New Hampshire
  • Richard B. Frankel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Ad. J. Kalmijn, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Publication Date

Several species of aquatic bacteria which orient in the Earth's magnetic field and swim along magnetic field lines in a preferred direction (magnetotaxis) have been observed in marine and freshwater sediments of the Northern Hemisphere1,2. Their orientation is due to one or more intracytoplasmic chains of single-domain magnetite particles3. These linearly arranged particles impart a net magnetic dipole moment to the bacterium, parallel to the axis of motility. Northern Hemisphere magnetotactic bacteria with unidirectional motility swim consistently in the direction of the magnetic field, that is, to the geomagnetic North1,2,4. This implies that their magnetic dipole is systematically orientated with the North-seeking pole forward. The magnetic polarity can be reversed by single, magnetic pulses of high field strength (1−2 µs, 300−600 G), and these bacteria then swim along magnetic field lines to the South5. Due to the inclination of the Earth's magnetic field, magnetotactic bacteria which swim to the North in the Northern Hemisphere are directed downward at an angle increasing with latitude. It has been suggested that this downward-directed motion confers a biological advantage by guiding the bacteria, when dislodged, back to the sediments1. On the basis of this hypothesis, magnetotactic bacteria of the Southern Hemisphere would be expected to swim to the South to reach the bottom. We report here several morphological types of magnetotactic bacteria present in sediments of the Southern Hemisphere. These bacteria indeed swim consistently to the South, hence downward along the Earth's inclined magnetic field lines, as hypothesized. As revealed by electron microscopy, they contain internal chains of electron-opaque particles similar to those observed in magnetotactic bacteria from the Northern Hemisphere. Like their Northern Hemisphere counterparts, their magnetic polarity can be permanently reversed and they cannot be demagnetized. We also report on Northern Hemisphere magnetotactic bacteria incubated in Southern Hemisphere magnetic conditions, confirming the biological relevance of downward directed motility.

Citation Information
R. P. Blakemore, Richard B. Frankel and Ad. J. Kalmijn. "South-seeking Magnetotactic Bacteria in the Southern Hemisphere" Nature Vol. 286 (1980) p. 384 - 385
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