Factors that influence magnetic orientation in Caenorhabditis elegans

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2020 May;206(3):343-352. doi: 10.1007/s00359-019-01364-y. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


Magnetoreceptive animals orient to the earth's magnetic field at angles that change depending on temporal, spatial, and environmental factors such as season, climate, and position within the geomagnetic field. How magnetic migratory preference changes in response to internal or external stimuli is not understood. We previously found that Caenorhabditis elegans orients to magnetic fields favoring migrations in one of two opposite directions. Here we present new data from our labs together with replication by an independent lab to test how temporal, spatial, and environmental factors influence the unique spatiotemporal trajectory that worms make during magnetotaxis. We found that worms gradually change their average preferred angle of orientation by ~ 180° to the magnetic field during the course of a 90-min assay. Moreover, we found that the wild-type N2 strain prefers to orient towards the left side of a north-facing up, disc-shaped magnet. Lastly, similar to some other behaviors in C. elegans, we found that magnetic orientation may be more robust in dry conditions (< 50% RH). Our findings help explain why C. elegans accumulates with distinct patterns during different periods and in differently shaped magnetic fields. These results provide a tractable system to investigate the behavioral genetic basis of state-dependent magnetic orientation.

Keywords: Humidity; Magnetic orientation; Migration; Nematode; State dependence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't