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New Analysis Clears Up 150 Years of False Assumptions

Brain of Birds

Much like the cortex of mammals, the nerve cells in sure areas of the mind of birds are organized in vertical layers and horizontal columns. Credit score: RUB, Biopsychlogy

Some birds can carry out wonderful cognitive feats – although their forebrains appear to simply include lumps of gray cells, whereas mammalian forebrains harbor a extremely complicated neocortex. A examine carried out by a analysis group at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) and researchers from Düsseldorf, Jülich, and Aachen reveals for the primary time wonderful similarities between the neocortex of mammals and sensory mind areas of birds: each are organized in horizontal layers and vertical columns. These findings refute 150-year-old assumptions. The group, revealed its findings within the journal Science on September 25, 2020.

The most important brains

Birds and mammals have the most important brains in relation to their physique. Other than that, nevertheless, they’ve little in widespread, based on scientific opinion for the reason that 19th century: mammalian brains have a neocortex, i.e. a cerebral cortex that’s made up of six layers and organized in columns perpendicular to those layers. Avian brains, then again, appear to be clumps of gray cells.

“Contemplating the astonishing cognitive efficiency that birds can obtain, it appeared cheap to suspect that their brains are extra organized than anticipated,” says Professor Onur Güntürkün, Head of the Biopsychology Analysis Unit on the RUB School of Psychology. He and his former doctoral college students Dr. Martin Stacho and Dr. Christina Herold proved this in a number of experiments.

Perfected know-how facilitates new insights

In step one, the researchers deployed a brand new technique perfected by the Düsseldorf and Jülich groups: so-called 3D polarized gentle imaging, or 3D PLI for brief, is able to displaying the orientation of particular person nerve fibers. To the researchers’ shock, an evaluation of the brains of varied birds revealed a corporation that’s just like that within the mammalian mind: right here too, the fibers are organized horizontally and vertically in the identical method as within the neocortex.

In additional experiments, the researchers used tiny crystals, that are absorbed by nerve cells in mind slices and transport them to their smallest dendrites, to look at the interconnection of cells within the chicken mind intimately. “Right here, too, the construction was proven to include columns, during which alerts are transmitted from prime to backside and vice versa, and lengthy horizontal fibers,” explains Onur Güntürkün. Nonetheless, this construction is barely discovered within the sensory areas of the avian mind. Different areas, corresponding to associative areas, are organized differently.

Superb cognitive efficiency

Some birds are able to astonishing cognitive performances to rival these of upper developed mammals corresponding to primates. For instance, ravens acknowledge themselves within the mirror and plan for the long run. They’re additionally capable of put themselves within the place of others, acknowledge causalities, and draw conclusions. Pigeons can study English spelling as much as the extent of six-year-old kids.

Reference: “A cortex-like canonical circuit within the avian forebrain” by Martin Stacho, Christina Herold, Noemi Rook, Hermann Wagner, Markus Axer, Katrin Amunts and Onur Güntürkün, 25 September 2020, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc5534

The examine was funded by the German Analysis Basis as a part of Collaborative Analysis Centres 1280 (venture no. A01 316803389) and 1372 (venture no. Neu04 395940726). Extra funding was provided by the European Union below the umbrella of the Horizon 2020 Programme (venture no. 785907 and 945539).

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