Cryptochrome: The magnetosensor with a sinister side?

by Lukas Landler, David A. Keays

Over the last three decades, evidence has emerged that low-intensity magnetic fields can influence biological systems. It is now well established that migratory birds have the capacity to detect the Earth’s magnetic field; it has been reported that power lines are associated with childhood leukemia and that pulsed magnetic fields increase the production of reactive oxidative species (ROS) in cellular systems. Justifiably, studies in this field have been viewed with skepticism, as the underlying molecular mechanisms are unknown. In the accompanying paper, Sherrard and colleagues report that low-flux pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) result in aversive behavior in Drosophila larvae and ROS production in cell culture. They further report that these responses require the presence of cryptochrome, a putative magnetoreceptor. If correct, it is conceivable that carcinogenesis associated with power lines, PEMF-induced ROS generation, and animal magnetoreception share a common mechanistic basis.

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