Navigating in the dark - studying the magnetic sense of mole-rats
My research focusses on the structure and function of animal sensory systems, in particular the mechanisms by which animals perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and use it for orientation. While we know for more than 60 years that many invertebrates and vertebrates possess a magnetic sense, the cellular and molecular basis of the receptors is highly debated and enigmatic. In this seminar, I will give an overview of the latest findings on vertebrate magnetoreception, with a focus on studies in birds and mammals. I will then continue with the current work in my lab, where we aim to identify the magnetoreceptors in a mammal. We study subterranean African mole-rats, which spent their entire life in underground tunnel systems. By combining behavioural assays with brain-wide neuronal activity mapping and recordings in freely moving animals in a virtual magnetic environment, we intent to unravel the neural circuitry encoding magnetic information and learn more about the properties and location of the primary receptor cells.