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Scientists Zap False Memories Into Birds to Teach Them Songs They’ve Never Heard

Neuroscientists have managed to implant “false memories” into the brain of a bird.

Elias Marat

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Scientists Zap False Memories Birds Songs
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(TMU) — Researchers have managed to teach birds songs that they had never heard before after activating select neurons within their brains—basically implanting false memories.

The very notion sounds like the prologue to the plot for the 1990 film Total Recall, where the protagonist, Quaid, is a construction worker whose adventures begin after he purchases fake memory implants of a life where he is a secret agent.

However, in this case, neuroscientists at the University of Texas Southwestern relied on a different process called optogenetics, or the scientific name for controlling the behavior of neurons through a combination of intense lights and genetic engineering. Their findings were published in Science.

Young zebra finches typically learn their birdsongs by absorbing and mimicking the songs of their parents. However, researchers managed to manipulate electrical activity in the birds’ mind, inserting genes into specific neurons into their brains that relate to learning songs. These genes allowed the scientists to activate proteins within the finches’ brains, lodging the song into their minds.

In a statement, study co-author Dr. Todd Roberts said:

“This is the first time we have confirmed brain regions that encode behavioral-goal memories – those memories that guide us when we want to imitate anything from speech to learning the piano.

The findings enabled us to implant these memories into the birds and guide the learning of their song.”

While the results of the experiment are an impressive feat, the sort of detail-rich, granular memories we enjoy still can’t be implanted in humans. However, the study could well open the door to potential treatments for human beings, including treating people affected by traumatic pasts, autism, and speech disorders.

Roberts added:

“We’re not teaching the bird everything it needs to know—just the duration of syllables in its song. 

The two brain regions we tested in this study represent just one piece of the puzzle.”

Yet the discovery may open new doors to researchers identifying brain circuits that play a strong role in influencing vocalization, including the order of sounds and their pitch.

Roberts said:

“If we figure out those other pathways, we could hypothetically teach a bird to sing its song without any interaction from its father. 

But we’re a long way from being able to do that.”

Roberts’ team had previously found it difficult to isolate the sections of finches’ brain where memories are stored. However, the latest experiment has found that memories are actually embedded in different parts of the birds’ brains than where they originated.

Roberts said:

“The human brain and the pathways associated with speech and language are immensely more complicated than the songbird’s circuitry.

But our research is providing strong clues of where to look for more insight on neurodevelopmental disorders.”

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

Animals

As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent: Scientists

Elias Marat

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The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.

However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.

While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.

The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and North Pole.

The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes –  but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.

“When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.

To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.

However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.

These changes augur major disruptions to global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.

The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.

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Animals

Rare Creature Photographed Alive In The Wild For The First Time Ever

Elias Marat

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Advances in the methods used by researchers to watch wildlife have allowed for the photographing of a rare creature whose image had never been captured in the wild before.

Researchers in the West African nation of Togo were able to spot the rare Walter’s duiker, a rare species of petite African antelope, for the first time in the wild thanks to camera traps equipped with motion sensors.

In addition to the Walter’s duiker, the camera traps were also able to discover rare species of aardvarks and a mongoose, reports Gizmodo.

At a time when the extinction of entire species is becoming more common worldwide, such devices should help conservationists not only preserve creatures sought by bushmeat hunters but also spot rare animals whose presence is elusive for human observers. In the past, biologists were forced to rely on the same hunters for information.

“Camera traps are a game changer when it comes to biodiversity survey fieldwork,” said University of Oxford wildlife biologist Neil D’Cruze.

“I’ve spent weeks roughing it in tropical forests seemingly devoid of any large mammal species,” D’Cruze continued. “Yet when you fire up the laptop and stick in the memory card from camera traps that have been sitting there patiently during the entire trip—and see species that were there with you the entire time —it’s like being given a glimpse into a parallel world.”

The Walter’s duiker was discovered in 2010 when specimens of bushmeat were compared to other duiker specimens. The new images of the creature are the first to have been seen.

Rare species like Walter’s duiker are often not listed as “endangered” by groups like the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to a lack of data.

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Animals

‘Horrific’ Swarms of Spiders, Snakes Invade Australian Homes Amid Devastating Floods

Elias Marat

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In recent years, Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) has faced everything from drought to brushfires, a pandemic, a recent all-consuming plague of mice and now, devastating floods and massive hordes of spiders.

In videos shared across social media, hundreds if not thousands of spiders can be seen scrambling through people’s homes and garages prior to an evacuation order being issued on early Saturday in expectation of the floods.

In one video posted to Facebook by Melanie Williams, the arachnids of all sizes can be seen scrambling about in search of shelter from the coming deluge.

“Check these spiders out, oh my god, oh my god! Look at them all,” Williams said in the video. “No! No! Oh my god.”

The Guardian reports that Kinchela resident Matt Lovenfosse was pulling up to his home on Monday morning when he witnessed what appeared to be a sea of “millions” of spiders climbing about to escape the floodwaters.

“So I went out to have a look and it was millions of spiders,” Lovenfosse said.

“It’s amazing. It’s crazy,” he continued. “The spiders all crawled up on to the house, on to fences and whatever they can get on to.”

The flooding has resulted in some 18,000 residents fleeing their homes since last week, with authorities warning that the cleanup could last until April.

The floods have also seen thousands of snakes and insects of every kind scrambling to flee from the floods, with some snakes even leaping into rescue boats to avoid being drowned.

“There were also skinks, ants, basically every insect, crickets – all just trying to get away from the flood waters,” vistor Shenae Varley told Guardian Australia.

It’s just the latest reminder that Australia isn’t just another country – it may be its own entirely different world.

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