Researcher Yuji Ikegaya and Hiroaki Norimoto from the University of Tokyo have performed an experiment in which they have provided a series of rats with geomagnetic prosthetics. The eyes of the rats were sealed shut so that the spatial information should reach the brains of the rats directly. The newly published paper is called “Visual Cortical Prosthesis with a Geomagnetic Compass Restores Spatial Navigation in Blind Rats”.
The goal of the researchers was to stimulate the visual cortex in the brains of the rats in order to restore the heterocentric sense of blind adults. In order to reach what they had planned the scientist designed a small head-mounted sensor consisting of a digital compass linked to a microstimulator by 2 electrodes. Once this device was connected to the visual cortex of the animals the gadget could detect movement and send a geomagnetic signal which gave the rodents instruction regarding which way they were facing.
The key element of the experiment is the natural allocentric sense of the body, which controls the individual’s spatial movement inside their environment. Individuals who have visual impairments encounter difficulties when moving not only because they cannot notice the obstacles in front of them, but also because they have a deficiency in what scientist call “absolute direction perception”. Through the bypass of the rats’ eyes and by triggering the visual cortex from the exterior so as to correspond immediately with the north or south alignment, the scientist succeeded to improve the rats’ allocentric sense. This compensates for the lack of directional perception. In the end the subjects have the ability to move as if there were nothing wrong with their sight.
The study shows how the mammalian brain is able to use the function of learning and adapting not only in childhood, but they can use it just as efficiently into adulthood. Ikegaya explained that the essential thing in this paper is the fact that it shows the latent ability of the brain, which means that even in adulthood the mammalian brain is flexible enough to adapt to a non-inherent, never-experienced phenomenon and incorporate it the already existing information sources.
Taking into account the fact that the study supports the idea according to which the brain is flexible enough to adapt to new senses, this means that people too could one day use artificial sensors to expand their senses and so be able to detect magnetic fields, ultrasound waves and ultraviolet rays.
Image Source: Mother Nature Network
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