It is well-established that numerous animals can perceive the geomagnetic field. This ability, called magnetoreception, has been studied extensively but the mechanisms for how animals perceive the geomagnetic field remain unclear. Understanding magnetoreception is vital for characterizing the navigational abilities of animals and how biological systems interact with magnetic fields. Recent research examining pigeons, an animal is known to exhibit a magnetic sense, identified two interesting genes that may be involved in magnetoreception. One of these genes, calcium voltage-gated channel subunit alpha1 D (CACNA1D), contains a short amino acid insertion (designated by the amino acids -KKER) in animals known to possess a magnetic sense. However, only seven species were examined for this insertion to date. This study aims to determine whether there is an association between the insertion in the CACNA1D gene and magnetoreception across vertebrates. Using publicly available genomic data, this study suggests that the ancestral vertebrate likely had a magnetic sense, which was subsequently lost multiple times. Animals known to have a magnetic sense, such as many birds, fish, and sharks have maintained this insertion, whereas in humans, wolves, bears, bats, and other taxonomic groups, the insertion is mutated or completely absent. Overall, these results suggest a new possible mechanism for how magnetoreception works as well as the vertebrates that can exhibit magnetic behavior.
Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
College of Sciences
Levin, Annabelle S., "Linking Magnetoreception to CACNA1D Homolog Protein Insertions in Vertebrates" (2021). Honors Undergraduate Theses. 938.