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Navigation Roundup

July 8, 2011

Humans have an internal chemical compass.



Can humans sense North? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A protein called cryptochrome helps animals navigate using the earth’s magnetic field. We have a form of cryptochrome in our eyes, and scientists have long wondered whether it’s functional. In a study published in Nature Communications, scientists produced fruitflies that have the human protein instead of their own, and the flies were able to navigate using magnetic fields. Whether humans actually make use of cryptochrome is still not known.

In other news, some birds run and flap their wings to get over obstacles. Scientists writing in the Journal of Experimental Biology were curious why the birds ran when they could have flown. Using sensors in pigeons, they found that this flap-running uses just 10 percent of the energy that flying does. They think that early protobirds could have been flap running long before they gained the ability to fly. I’m Bob Hirshon, dor AAAS, the science society.