Researchers say that a protein expressed in the human retina, human cryptochrome 2 protein (hCRY2), can sense magnetic fields when implanted into Drosophila, leading to an interesting topic in sensory biology; perhaps humans have an innate magnetic sense.

Migratory birds and sea turtles do, and that ability to sense the Earth's magnetic field is how they navigate long-distance voyages during migration.

In many migratory animals, the light-sensitive chemical reactions in the flavoprotein cryptochrome (CRY) are thought to play an important role in the ability to sense the Earth's magnetic field. In the case of Drosophila, some studies have shown that the cryptochrome protein found in these flies can function as a light-dependent magnetic sensor. 

To test whether hCRY2 has a similar magnetic sensory ability, Steven Reppert, MD, the Higgins Family Professor of Neuroscience and chair and professor of neurobiology, graduate student Lauren Foley, and Robert Gegear, PhD, a post doctoral fellow in the Reppert lab now an assistant professor of biology and biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, created a transgenic Drosophila model lacking its native cryptochrome protein but expressing hCRY2 instead.

Using a behavioral system Reppert's group previously developed, they showed that these transgenic flies were able to sense and respond to an electric-coil-generated magnetic field and do so in a light-dependent manner. 

They say these findings demonstrate that hCRY2 has the molecular capability to function in a magnetic sensing system and may pave the way for further investigation into human magnetoreception. "Additional research on magneto sensitivity in humans at the behavioral level, with particular emphasis on the influence of magnetic field on visual function, rather than non-visual navigation, would be informative," wrote Reppert and colleagues in the
 Nature Communications study.