Magnetogenetics is a new field that leverages genetically encoded proteins and protein assemblies that are sensitive to magnetic fields to study and manipulate cell behavior. Theoretical studies show that many proposed magnetogenetic proteins do not contain enough iron to generate substantial magnetic forces. Here, we have engineered a genetically encoded ferritin-containing protein crystal that grows inside mammalian cells. Each of these crystals contains more than 10 million ferritin subunits and is capable of mineralizing substantial amounts of iron. When isolated from cells and loaded with iron in vitro, these crystals generate magnetic forces that are 9 orders of magnitude larger than the forces from the single ferritin cages used in previous studies. These protein crystals are attracted to an applied magnetic field and move toward magnets even when internalized into cells. While additional studies are needed to realize the full potential of magnetogenetics, these results demonstrate the feasibility of engineering protein assemblies for magnetic sensing.
Keywords: Magnetogenetics; ferritin; magnetic; protein crystal.