Many motile unicellular organisms have evolved specialized behaviors for detecting and responding to chemical gradients (chemotaxis) or oxygen (aerotaxis), while magnetotactic bacteria sense magnetic fields to align their direction of movement. Herein we show that Magnetospirillum magneticum (AMB-1) have the ability to sense and respond not only to the direction of magnetic fields of naturally occurring magnitude, but also to local, highly concentrated magnetic field gradients that do not occur in their natural environment. We imposed these gradients through our system integrating Helmholtz coils and permalloy (Ni80Fe20) microstructures. The AMB-1 exhibit three distinct behaviors as they approached gradients near the microstructures—unidirectional, single direction reversal, and double direction reversal. These results indicate previously unknown capabilities of the magnetic sensing systems of AMB-1.

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