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What is it?

What is it?

Magnetic Bacteria

KAREN TAVARES SILVA

Magnetic bacteria (two of them on the image) create prism-shaped, linearly arrange magnets, which is uncommon in magnetiteKAREN TAVARES SILVA

Magnetic bacteria are single-cell or multi-celled organisms that use the Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves. They do this by producing nano-metric crystals called magnetosomes in their bodies. These crystals work like regular magnetite magnets. They move using flagella – structures that work like flippers – and generally swim towards the depths of their habitat. These bacteria do not grow in environments with much oxygen and consume carbon and nitrogen.

Although they are relatively unknown, they are found in aquatic environments worldwide such as Cananéia (on the coast of São Paulo), the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon (Rio de Janeiro), and the Mediterranean sea, as well as in China. They prefer calm waters, such as those in bays or lakes.

So far, there is no evidence of their being harmful. These microorganisms have attracted researchers’ attention, especially in the fields of Computer Science and Biomedicine. There are attempts to use them in the production of magnetic surfaces for computers and contrasts for medical tests. These properties, however, have not been explored commercially. It is also interesting (and commercially relevant) that the magnets these beings produce are permanent – they do not demagnetize.
The information that leads to the production of proteins that interfere with the synthesis of magnetosomes is encoded in the bacteria’s genome.

Ulysses Lins, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

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