Bird Migration Influenced by Toxic Molecule

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As scientists and biologists continue to struggle to discover exactly what causes birds to migrate with such accuracy, it seems new breakthroughs continue to be made. A recent discovery reported in the June Biophysical Journal sheds exciting new light on a still relatively misunderstood process of nature.

The discovery was made by Klaus Schulten (Swanlund Chair in Physics at Illinois) and his collaborator Ilia Solov’yov (Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies). It seems that Solov’yov did not know that the molecule known as superoxide was toxic and was using it in studies of the biomechanical process of the cryptochrome protein found in the eye of a bird. Superoxide is a toxic molecule that is known to damage cells and cause disease. Now it seems it also plays a constructive role in the process that enables birds to ‘visualise’ the Earth’s magnetic field.

It turns out that superoxide is an ideal reaction partner when paired with the cryptochrome protein. In 2000 it was discovered that this protein plays a key role in the development of a bird’s geomagnetic sense, since chemical reactions can take place in the protein in response to magnetic fields. However magnetic fields interact so weakly with molecules that up until now it was virtually impossible to understand how these reactions could take place. It was thought that changes in the electromagnetic field, such as would occur when the bird changed direction while flying, would have an effect on freely tumbling spins of electrons in the birds eye which would essentially serve as a compass that pointed north or south. Researchers then supposed that the cryptochrome recruited a reaction partner with ‘zero-spin’ and it was proposed that oxygen was that partner.

Now it seems researchers had it backwards. It may not be oxygen, but rather its close cousin superoxide, that serves as the reaction partner in this process. Initially the toxicity of the molecule caused Klaus Schulten to dismiss the idea presented by Solov’yov. But then he realized that the toxicity of the molecule was actually crucial to the role it played in the process. Most living organisms, such as birds, have mechanisms for reducing the concentrations of superoxide in the body to prevent it from damaging the organism. The molecule needs to be present – but only in low concentrations. In birds, it is the presence of this molecule that makes the biomechanical compass work effectively.

North West Bird Watching Festival – A Fun Family Outing

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If you’re looking for a great weekend’s activity for the whole family, you’ll find that the North West Bird Watching Festival is exactly what you’re looking for. This great event will prove to be both educational and recreational, helping families to reconnect with nature whilst at the same time helping them to buy out time from stressful lives and learning more about how to look after our endangered wildlife.

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Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding & Nature Festival

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For the last couple of years Southeast Georgia has been home to a wonderful annual birding and nature festival. The event spotlights the numerous bird species that make use of the different Georgian habitats and caters to almost everyone – from causal nature enthusiasts to more experienced birders.

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Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

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Bird lovers looking for a fantastic long-weekend getaway should look no further than the 15th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. The festival will take place, as always, in Harlingen, Texas, and will provide plenty of great, nature-orientated activities for young and old.

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Seaway Trail Has Reputation for Excellence

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Situated along the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River in New York State, the Seaway Trail is a bird watcher’s haven. This is a place where you will find a massive variety of songbirds, raptors, waterfowl and shorebirds in one relatively small area. Most people are not even aware it exists and are surprised to learn that this bountiful bird refuge is located right on their doorstep.

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Israel Chooses National Bird

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The nation of Israel has finally chosen their national bird. After months of selecting and voting, it would seem that the Hoopoe had the most votes. This pretty little bird managed to scoop a massive 35% of the votes, giving it the prestige of becoming the new symbol of Israel.

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Pay a Visit to the National Aviary

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Situated on the historic North Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the National Aviary is an absolute bird-lovers paradise. Open every day of the year (except Christmas) the National Aviary offers the perfect opportunity for the public to become better acquainted with an incredible variety of birds. With an annual attendance of more than 100,000 visitors since opening in 1999, this multi award winning attraction is actively pursuing their goal of inspiring respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.

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Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes

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Every year thousands of serious bird watchers head out to Detroit Lakes in Minnesota to make the most of this fabulous birder’s paradise. The Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes allows bird watchers the opportunity of getting to see and learn more about the many enchanting bird species that live here.

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Fun for All at the Acadia Birding Festival

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With the 10th annual Acadia Birding Festival set to take place this June, bird lovers across the country are getting ready to enjoy this noteworthy event. This is a time when families can share in enjoying the wonders of nature as they participate in walks and learn more about these fascinating creatures at lectures.

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The Balcones Songbird Festival in Texas

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Bird lovers will often tell you that the first thing that attracted them to these often delicate, pretty little creatures was their delightful songs. For centuries this caused man to catch and cage these little bards so that they could hear their delightful music both day and night. Fortunately today we no longer seek to put wild birds in cages, but we still enjoy the sweet melodies that they utter.

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