Magnetotactic bacteria and magnetofossils: ecology, evolution and environmental implications

NPJ Biofilms Microbiomes. 2022 Jun 1;8(1):43. doi: 10.1038/s41522-022-00304-0.


Magnetotactic bacteria (MTB) are a group of phylogenetically diverse and morphologically varied microorganisms with a magnetoresponsive capability called magnetotaxis or microbial magnetoreception. MTB are a distinctive constituent of the microbiome of aquatic ecosystems because they use Earth's magnetic field to align themselves in a north or south facing direction and efficiently navigate to their favored microenvironments. They have been identified worldwide from diverse aquatic and waterlogged microbiomes, including freshwater, saline, brackish and marine ecosystems, and some extreme environments. MTB play important roles in the biogeochemical cycling of iron, sulphur, phosphorus, carbon and nitrogen in nature and have been recognized from in vitro cultures to sequester heavy metals like selenium, cadmium, and tellurium, which makes them prospective candidate organisms for aquatic pollution bioremediation. The role of MTB in environmental systems is not limited to their lifespan; after death, fossil magnetosomal magnetic nanoparticles (known as magnetofossils) are a promising proxy for recording paleoenvironmental change and geomagnetic field history. Here, we summarize the ecology, evolution, and environmental function of MTB and the paleoenvironmental implications of magnetofossils in light of recent discoveries.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fresh Water*
  • Prospective Studies

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.17122277.v1