6

Someone told me that human cells can somehow feel the earth's magnetic field. The same guy thought that centrioles are probably involved.

Is it true?

If not, would it be true for stronger magnetic fields?

It seems that this claim is quite widespread because a society uses this claim to sell stuff that are supposed to increase well-being thanks to magnets.


My question concerns human's abilities to sense magnetic field and not the effectiveness of therapeutic magnets.

  • Whether humans can sense magnetic fields, and whether therapeutic magnets are effective are pretty much completely unrelated questions. In pretty much the same way that a human's ability to "sense" the presence of asprin, and asprin's effect on the human body are unrelated. – Flimzy Jan 17 '14 at 5:29
  • 1
    @Flimzy Yep I know. And my question concerned our ability to sense only and not about the effectiveness of therapeutic magnets – Remi.b Jan 17 '14 at 10:30
  • My comment was in response to the last sentence, which seems to confuse the two issues... but I didn't down vote the question. – Flimzy Jan 17 '14 at 14:43
  • @Flimzy I edited to avoid the confusion. – Remi.b Jan 17 '14 at 14:57
  • 2
    Given that humans tend to naturally walk in circles when they are lost, it seems unlikely that their is any innate magnetic direction finding in humans, since it seems that survival is the time an instinctive skill like that would come into play. – Johnny Jan 28 '15 at 22:47
12

It is known that many animals posess the ability to sense magnetic fields (magnetoreception), a well-known example are migratory birds. Humans are generally considered to lack such a mechanism.

From the article "A behavioral perspective on the biophysics of the light-dependent magnetic compass: a link between directional and spatial perception?":

The intervening years have provided a wealth of evidence that the magnetic sense is present in taxonomically diverse groups of animals (Wiltschko and Wiltschko, 1995). For example, among mammals there is evidence for magnetic sensitivity in mice, hamsters, rats, mole rats, bats, cows and deer (Olcese et al., 1985; Burda et al., 1990; Kimchi and Terkel, 2001; Deutschlander et al., 2003; Muheim et al., 2006a; Thalau et al., 2006; Begall et al., 2008; Holland et al., 2008). Indeed, animals that do not have a magnetic sense (humans are widely assumed to fall in this category) may be the exception, rather than the rule.

There are some studies by Robin Baker, but they are cited as controversial in the newer articles I found on the topic.

From "Human cryptochrome exhibits light-dependent magnetosensitivity":

Humans are widely assumed not to have a magnetic sense3. For example, the extensive behavioural studies by Robin Baker11,12,13,14,15, suggesting a link between non-visual navigation and magnetoreception in humans, are controversial. However, there is consistent evidence of an influence of geomagnetic fields on the light sensitivity of the human visual system16,17.

In this article the authors show that humans posess one protein that can potentially sense magnetic fields:

Our results show that hCRY2, the prototype type 2 CRY18,19, has the molecular capability to function in a light-dependent magnetoreception system, either as a light-sensitive magnetosensor or as part of a magnetosensing pathway. However, we do not yet know whether this capability is translated into a downstream biological response in the human retina.

So far there is no convincing data that humans can sense magnetic fields, but there are some results that merit some further investigation. But even if we can sense magnetic fields, I would strongly doubt any medical effects of such magnets unless they are shown in a clinical trial.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .