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Brain Beat: Animal Brains

by AMNH on

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By examining the neural wiring and structure of animal brains, researchers can gain insight into the workings of the human brain, sometimes described as the world’s most complex structure. (The 100,000 neurons of a fly’s brain are easier to track and catalog than the human brain’s one hundred billion.) In the Museum’s current exhibition Brain: The Inside Story, visitors can learn more about the difference — and similarities — between human and animal brains.

Visitors will have also have the chance to view and compare the brains of different animals on Saturday, January 15, at the family-friendly program BRAINFest! The Museum’s Sackler Lab will offer kids and families the chance to learn about how genes work in the brain and look at neurons under a microscope.

In the meantime, check out these recent stories on animal brain research that also provides insight into the human brain.

“Decoding the Human Brain with Help from a Fly”, a story from The New York Times, describes the work of Taiwanese researchers who have constructed an atlas of a fruit fly’s brain by bar coding some 16,000 of its 100,000 neurons. Because human and fly brains are similar in general structure and chemical makeup, biologists view this wiring map as a step toward understanding the human brain.

Another New York Times story, “In Pursuit of a Mind Map, Slice by Slice”, explores a research team’s efforts to build a connectome, essentially a map of neural connections in the human brain. However, researchers are not yet ready to map a human’s 100 billion neurons and are starting with smaller structures. They are in the process of building a connectome of a mouse, taking miniscule slivers of mouse brains and developing detailed images of each slice.

“Boosting Key Brain Chemicals Cuts Fatigue in Mice”, a recent story from Sify News, reports on a study that could lead to new treatments for neuromuscular disorders, including muscular dystrophy and congestive heart failure. By increasing a mouse’s supply of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter essential for muscle contraction, it was able to run on a treadmill twice as long as a normal mouse.

Finally, this video, featured on Popular Science’s website, showcases a new brain imaging method that uses high-resolution photography, fluorescent proteins, and a supercomputer to compile the data to visualize the brain’s synapses. The video is a colorful, 3-D tour inside a mouse’s cortex. This new method could give scientists a better understanding of how brain cells communicate.