For a number of animals, including birds, fish and mammals, there is evidence that magnets are used for orientation. However, little is known about how these organisms build these magnets. For magnetotactic bacteria we have isolated a protein that will drive the formation of magnetic particles. We are using this protein to discover how these bacteria produce magnets by the process called biomineralization.
This project involves working with proteins and mutant proteins with altered activity and making a variety of biochemical and biophysical measurements of the proteins and their magnetic products. It may also involve working with the bacteria to create mutant bacteria that might produce different types of magnetic crystals. We expect that this project will lead to understanding how the bacteria produce the magnets that orient to the earth's poles. With this knowledge we can devise materials in which magnets are grown in predefined locations and to specifications of size and magnetic character.
Program mentor: Marit Nilsen-Hamilton, professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics & Molecular Biology, Iowa State University