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Armed forces have to be prepared to operate in environments where GPS technology has been degraded or denied by enemy action. Findings of a US Army-funded research could be key to Army navigation of both autonomous and manned vehicles where GPS is unavailable.

For decades, scientists have been investigating how animals such as birds, sea turtles, fish and insects sense the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to find their way.

Researchers demonstrated that a protein in birds’ retinas is sensitive to magnetic fields and may be a long-sought sensor for biological navigation.

The researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Oldenburg were supported through a co-funded effort of the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research Global, and Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The team discovered that the magnetic sense of migratory birds is based on a specific light-sensitive protein in the eye, and identified that protein as well as the molecular mechanism underlying this sensitivity.

“This fundamental knowledge is critical for informing future technology development efforts aimed at exploiting this mechanism for highly sensitive magnetic field sensors that could enable Army navigation where GPS is unavailable, compromised or denied,” according to the researchers, cited by dvidshub.net.

The research was published in Nature.