MAR 10, 2016 9:01 AM PST

How Magnetic Bacteria Work & Why Scientists Want These Magnets

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Nature is full of inspiration for scientists and engineers. Discovered by Richard P. Blakemore in 1975, magnetotactic bacteria are tiny microorganisms that have the capacity to convert iron into magenetite inside organelles called magnetosomes. Each of the magnetite crystal acts as a nano-magnet, and a chain of these act as a built-in compass for north and south detection. The bacteria use these internal compasses to move and align themselves in watery regions with optimal oxygen concentrations.

The perfectly uniform shape and size of the bacteria's magnetite crystals could be leveraged in science and medicine. Already, scientists are looking to adapt the magnetic crystals for targeted drug delivery of chemotherapies to cancer patients. The concept is to use the magnetite to control drug release, and locate drugs at specific targeted sites in order to minimize collateral damages to the healthy cells.

In addition to medical innovations, electronic systems that rely on magnet technology could also get a boost from the bacteria's magnetite products. Watch the video to learn more about how these bacteria may soon show up in pills and computer parts!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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