Several species of bacteria manufacture magnetite, naturally occurring
magnetic form of iron oxide (Fe3O4). Some chemically alter their environment,
precipitating this mineral from their surroundings. Others, such as
Magnetospirillum magnetotacticum, internally sequester crystals of magnetite
into structures (magnetosomes) that are tens to hundreds of nanometers
long. They use these permanent magnets to orient themselves along magnetic
fields. When left behind in sediments, their magnetite yields information
concerning the orientation of the geomagneticfield in which they lived.
Magnetite crystals in the same size range as those made by Earth bacteria
were recently found in martian meteorite ALH84001. Because this kind
of magnetite crystals are very specific in structure and only found
in living organisms, many are using this discovery as another piece
of evidence supporting life on Mars.