Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Changes in brain architecture may be driven by different cognitive challenges

25.06.2009
Scientists trying to understand how the brains of animals evolve have found that evolutionary changes in brain structure reflect the types of social interactions and environmental stimuli different species face.

The study is the first to compare multiple species of related animals, in this case social wasps, to look at how roles of individuals in a society might affect brain architecture.

The research looks at brain structure differences between species, asking how the size of different brain regions relates to each species' social complexity and nest architecture. The results are being published Wednesday (June 24) in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The Royal Society is the United Kingdom's national academy of sciences.

"It looks as if different brain regions respond to specific challenges. It is important to find these relationships because they can tell us which challenges guide brain evolution," said Sean O'Donnell, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study.

O'Donnell and lead author Yamile Molina, who just completed work on her doctorate at the UW, looked at the brains of eight New World social wasp species from Costa Rica and Ecuador.

"One idea is that social interactions themselves put on demands for advanced cognitive abilities. We are interested in finding out exactly which social and environmental factors favor an increase in a given brain region," said Molina.

The UW researchers captured queens and female workers from colonies of the eight wasp species and examined their brains. For the most part, males usually don't play an important behavioral role in a social wasp colony's labor and other activities, according to O'Donnell. However, a follow-up study will look at the male wasp brain structure.

In examining the female wasps, the researchers found strong evidence that queens, rather than workers, have distinct brain structure that matches the species' cognitive challenges.

Social wasps form colonies differently and build two types of nests. In more primitive wasps, a queen mates and flies away separately to establish a small colony. Among the more advanced social wasps, several young queens and a group of workers leave a colony as a swarm to establish a new colony that has a much larger population. Independent founders and a few swarm founders build open-comb nests, while most swarm founders build enclosed nests with interiors that are much darker.

Molina and O'Donnell found that queens from open-comb nests had larger central brain processing regions that are devoted to vision than queens from closed-nest colonies. Queens from enclosed nests, where vision isn't as important and where they rely on chemical communication through pheromones, had larger antennal lobes to process chemical messages than queens from open nests.

Among independent-founding wasps, where queens regulate the behavior of a colony, queens had larger vision-processing regions (called mushroom body collars) than their workers. But among swarm-founders, which have a decentralized form of colony regulation, workers had larger mushroom body collars and larger optic lobes than queens.

"We can learn things about ourselves from a whole variety of animals. When neurobiologists use animal models they often look to rodents and primates," said Molina. "I would argue social insects like wasps are like us in some ways and should be an important model as well. In this study we found that it's not being social, but how you are social that explains brain architecture. The brain can be a mirror reflecting what an animal is using it for."

Co-author of the paper is Robin Harris, a UW doctoral student in neurobiology. The Society for Comparative and Integrative Biology and the National Science Foundation funded the research.

For more information, contact Molina at ymolina@u.washington.edu or O'Donnell at 206-543-2315 or sodonnel@u.washington.edu.

Joel Schwarz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Amputees can learn to control a robotic arm with their minds
28.11.2017 | University of Chicago Medical Center

nachricht The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>