Humans may have an internal compass that can get them from one place to another without the help of external navigational devices.
According to research recently carried out by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, monarch butterflies can sense the Earth's magnetic field and can, consequently, use it to navigate in the absence of light, says science journal Nature Communications. The substance responsible for this, says a story in The Atlantic Wire, is a cryptochrome gene. Cryptochrome is a light-sensitive protein that helps regulate daily body rhythms, present in both butterflies and humans.
By extrapolation, this means is that humans too are possibly sensitive to the Earth's magnetic field. "One of the monarch’s two cryptochrome genes is similar in its DNA sequence to the human cryptochrome gene. That prompted the idea of seeing whether the human gene, too, could restore magnetic sensing," says a New York Times report on the study.
Could this be the gene that helped our ancestors migrate across the planet without the help of complicated compasses, GPS systems and Google maps? Perhaps. But it might be those very same devices -- all those electromagnetic waves emitted by our cellphones and smart phones -- that are preventing us from tapping into our in-built navigational systems. "It may be that our electromagnetic world is interfering with our ability to do this kind of stuff,” says Dr. John B. Phillips of Virginia Tech who has also studied this phenomenon.