We aim to understand how animals detect the Earth’s magnetic field and use it for orientation. In a top-down approach we study the neural circuits involved in the perception of magnetic fields from the processing centers in the brain all the way back to the primary receptor cells. Our model species is the African mole-rat Fukomys anselli, a subterranean mammal and extraordinary magnetic navigator that spends its entire life in total darkness.
We investigate the neuronal navigation circuits with an interdisciplinary neuroethological approach that includes whole brain activity mapping and single-unit recordings in freely moving animals complemented with anatomical and histological techniques. We hope that our work will gain crucial insights into the neuronal machinery that enables animals to detect magnetic fields. An understanding of how mammals detect weak magnetic fields promises advances in the auspicious field of magnetogenetics and provides the missing mechanistical basis to assess and predict effects of man-made electromagnetic fields on vertebrates.