Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Magnetic iron-sulphur crystals from a magnetotactic microorganism


IN all magnetotactic microorganisms studied so far, the geomagnetic field is detected by magnetic particles with a permanent magnetic moment. These are crystallites enveloped by a membrane that forms the magnetosome, a specialized organelle common to magnetotactic cells1,2. To date, the magnetic crystallite of magnetotactic bacteria has been found to be magnetite, an iron-oxygen mineral3–7. Here we report the discovery of magnetic iron-sulphur crystals in a highly motile multicellular aggregate of bacteria found in brackish water with sulphide-rich sediments. The iron sulphide crystals are enveloped by amorphous or weakly crystalline regions rich in iron and oxygen, and these regions are surrounded by a membrane forming the magnetosome. The oxygen-rich region may be involved in growth of the iron sulphide crystals. The magnetosomes are found in planar groups inside the cytoplasm of each cell in the aggregate. Magnetic iron sulphide such as we describe here, which is probably pyrrhotite, may be a source of remnant magnetization in sediments and soils.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Blakemore, R. P. Science 190, 377–379 (1975).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Frankel, R. B., Blakemore, R. P. & Wolfe, R. S. Science 203, 1355–1356 (1979).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Matsuda, T., Endo, J., Osakabe, N., Tonomura, A. & Arii, T. Nature 302, 411–412 (1983).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Towe, K. M. & Moench, T. T. Earth planet. Sci. Lett. 52, 213–220 (1981).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Mann, S., Frankel, R. B. & Blakemore, R. P. Nature 310, 405–407 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bazylinski, D. A., Frankel, R. B. & Jannasch, H. W. Nature 334, 518–519 (1988).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Blakemore, R. P. A Rev. Microbiol. 36, 217–238 (1982).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Farina, M., Lins de Barros, H. G. P., Esquivel, D. M. S. & Danon, J. Biol. Cell. 48, 85–86 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Lins de Barros, H. G. P. & Esquivel, D. M. S. in Magnetite Biomineralization and Magnetoreception in Organisms (eds Kirschvink, J. L. et al.) 289–309 (Plenum, New York, 1985).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  10. Esquivel, D. M. S., Lins de Barros, H. G. P., Farina, M., Aragão, P. H. A. & Danon, J. Biol. Cell. 47, 227–234 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Farina, M., Sollorzano, G. & Vieira, G. J. Proc. Xlth Int. Cong. on Electron Microscopy, Kyoto 3369–3370 (1986).

  12. Reimer, L., Fromm, J. & Rennekam, R. Ultramicroscopy 24, 339–354 (North-Holland, Amsterdam, 1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Inorganic Index to the Powder Diffraction File (Joint Committee on Powder Diffraction Standards, 1971).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Farina, M., Esquivel, D. & de Barros, H. Magnetic iron-sulphur crystals from a magnetotactic microorganism. Nature 343, 256–258 (1990).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing