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Over the last several decades, behavior experiments have shown that a variety of animals are capable of sensing Earth’s magnetic field. Although several theories exist to explain this phenomenon, the underlying molecular basis remains unknown. Our research at UCF is trying to identify the possible location of a ‘magnetoreceptor’ and putative genes involved in a magnetic sense. We utilize various RNA-seq experiments in fish (i.e. salmonids) to quantify changes in gene expression after exposure to magnetic stimuli. We have examined both the brain and retina to date. There is essentially no change in gene expression in the retina, but numerous changes were observed in the brain. The changes in the brain have yielded ‘candidate magnetoreception genes’, such as the protein ferritin, in which ongoing experiments are examining more closely.

Funding: Air Force Office of Scientific Research (through Sönke Johnsen at Duke University)

Collaborators: Sönke Johnsen (Duke), Jay Wheeler (Duke), Ken Lohmann (UNC), Dave Ernst (UNC/UArk), Lewis Naisbett-Jones (UNC)


Robert Fitak, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology