Japanese researchers conducted a recent study about the connection of blind rats’ brains of to a geomagnetic compass and found out that the rats instinctively were able to learn to use new information about their location and to steer through a maze almost as well as normal sighted rats according to a finding reported in the journal Current Biology.
Findings suggest that a parallel type of neuroprosthesis can also help blind people walk freely in the world.
Yuji Ikegaya of the University of Tokyo says, “The utmost remarkable point of this paper is to showcase the potential, or the covert ability of the brain. We demonstrated that the mammalian brain is supple even in adulthood, enough to adaptively integrate a novel, never-experienced, non-inherent modality into the pre-existing information sources.”
With a new sensory input, the brains of the animals were ready and keen to fill in “the world drawn by the five senses,” in other words, he says.
Ikegaya and his colleague Hiroaki Norimoto set out to do was to restore not the rat’s vision itself, but the blind rats’ allocentric sense. That sense allows animals and people to identify the position of their body contained in the environment.
The head-mounted geomagnetic sensor device allowed them to connect a digital compass, the type found in any smart phone, to two tungsten microelectrodes to motivate the graphic cortex of the brain. The lightweight apparatus allows also researchers to trigger the brain stimulation up or down and includes a rechargeable battery. The sensor automatically identified, once attached, the animal’s head direction and produced electric stimulation pulses indicating which direction they were facing, whether north or south.
The “blind” rats were then taught to search food pellets in a T-shaped or a complicated maze. The researchers report, the animals learned to use the geomagnetic information to solve the mazes. In fact, their performance levels and navigation strategies were similar to those of normally sighted rats. The animals’ allocentric sense was restored.
The findings suggest a very modest application, the conceivable attachment of geomagnetic sensors to the canes used by blind people to maneuver around. Based on the findings, the researchers expects, that humans can have the capacity to increase their senses through artificial sensors that perceive geomagnetic input, ultrasound waves, ultraviolet radiation and more. It appears, our brains, are capable of a lot more than our limited senses allow.