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No. 68: Mar-Apr 1990

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Magnetic bacteria in the soil and who knows where else?

It is already well-established that saltand fresh-water sediments harbor bacteria that synthesize grains of magnetite - presumably for the purpose of sensing the ambient magnetic field and orienting themselves. Similar bacteria have recently been discovered living in ordinary soil in Bavaria. It is near-certain that they will now be found just about everywhere. J.W.E. Fassbinder et al, who reported the Bavarian bacteria, conclude their Abstract with: "We suggest that the magnetic bacteria and their magnetofossils can contribute to the magnetic properties of soils."

(Fassbinder, Jorg W.E., et al; "Occurrence of Magnetic Bacteria in Soil." Nature, 343:161, 1990.)

Comment. It is easy to reach great heights of speculation given the facts that: (1) magnetic bacteria exist; (2) bacteria in general are exceedingly abundant; and (3) bacteria are found deep inside the earth's crust and, seemingly, just about anywhere one cares to look. Now, let's see how ridiculous one can get:

  1. Magnetic bacteria and/or their fossils contribute heavily to the magnetic properties of sedimentary rocks and unlithified sediments, such as deep-sea sediments. In fact, magnetostratigraphy and paleomagnetism in general may be based upon bioartifacts and be suspect.

  2. Magnetic bacteria and/or their fossils are present in such immense numbers deep in the crust that they contribute significantly to the earth's magnetic field. They "might" even be responsible for most of it, including its his torical behavior.

  3. Magnetic bacteria, as agents of Gaia, actually constructed the earth's magnetic field for the specific purpose of erecting a shield against space radiation, and thereby allowing the development of more complex life forms on the planet's surface.

Imagine the consequences if any one of the above speculations is even close to the mark!

From Science Frontiers #68, MAR-APR 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987