The hearing precision that lets common barn owls find prey is helping researchers fine tune their quest to diagnose a variety of problems rooted in the human brain, not only with hearing but also with behavior and potentially damaged areas.
University of Oregon researchers have found that barn owls (Tyto alba) are better able to track changes in the location of a noise, such as that made by a potential meal, when the sound source moves horizontally than when the sound changes direction vertically. The discovery was made using an infrared-monitoring procedure that measures pupil dilation responses that are influenced by changes in sound sources around an owl.
“When we are looking at problems of spatial localization, or how to locate sound in a space, the barn owl provides a great system,” said Avinash D.S. Bala, a researcher in the University of Oregon’s Institute of Neuroscience and lead author of a new study.
The findings – published in Aug. 1 issue of PLoS ONE, a journal of the non-profit Public Library of Science – confirms and solidifies the results of an earlier study (Nature, Aug. 14, 2003), in which Bala and colleagues first documented the brain mapping of firing neurons to horizontal changes in the source of noises in the owl’s brain.
Bala was the lead author on both projects, which were done in collaboration with former UO researcher Matthew W. Spitzer, who now is at Monash University in Australia, and principal investigator Terry T. Takahashi, a UO professor of biology and researcher in the Institute of Neuroscience.
“The barn owl has a portion of the midbrain which serves as a map,” Bala said. “Neuron activity can be traced in the map as sound moves. Looking at this map, you can decipher which sounds are being received more actively.”
The new study, in which conclusions were based on the recordings of 62 neurons that represent auditory space, also sheds light on how outside information is converted into electrical activity and transformed into behavior.
“The brain, in the case of spatial hearing, judges neuronal activity in a democratic manner,” Bala said. “It listens to the responses of neurons, and it goes with an approximate average of responses. This has the advantage of reducing environmental noise that is inducing false positives, which would be more common if the owl was depending on only a few neurons. Overall sensitivity might go down, but the probability of an owl actually hitting its prey becomes much higher.”
The monitoring procedure Bala and colleagues have devised, which is in the early stages of human application, has the potential to use the eyes, through changes in the size of the pupil, as a gateway to the human brain. The system would allow for measuring the response to different aspects of sound, such as volume, pitch and location, as well as diagnosing basic sensory deficits and identify areas of damage in the brain.
Jim Barlow | EurekAlert!
Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds
26.05.2017 | Cornell University
How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system
26.05.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy