CLOSE
Current Biology, Muto et al.
Current Biology, Muto et al.

This is What a Fish Thought Looks Like

Current Biology, Muto et al.
Current Biology, Muto et al.

It’s an old cartoon trope that a light bulb will appear over a character’s head when they’re struck by a brilliant idea, but that kind of tangible indication of mental activity only exists in animated illustration—at least, it did until Japanese researchers Akira Muto, Koichi Kawakami, and Junichi Nakai pioneered new technology enabling them to observe neural activity occurring in the zebrafish brain in real time, as described in a recent article published in Current Biology.

In its embryonic and larval stages, the zebrafish's body remains transparent, making it an ideal candidate for the fluorescence imaging study undertaken by scientists at Japan’s National Institute for Genetics. That unique property allows researchers to observe the body's underlying structures directly, either with the naked eye or under magnification. By developing a chemical marker that can be inserted directly into the relevant neurons of interest and detected by a fluorescent probe, the scientists enabled a close study of the activity occurring within the zebrafish brain at the level of a single cell. They introduced a new version of GCaMP, a genetically encoded calcium indicator that glows green in the presence of calcium, signaling a quantifiable increase in brain activity. As areas of the fish’s brain lit up in response to a moving stimulus, the researchers were able to keep track of neural firing at any given moment, tracing the path of the fish’s thought as it occurred.

In order to make sure they would be able to monitor the correct parts of the working zebrafish brain, the scientists first identified the relevant neurons that became active in response to a moving object and created a model of how they anticipated the neurons would react to other patterns of movement. They then tempted their subject by releasing single-celled paramecia, a common zebrafish food source, into its environment. The expected neurons glowed in accordance with the researchers’ forecast, thereby validating their predictive model.

Observing the hunger responses of a 2-inch minnow is a far cry from unlocking the secrets of human cognition, but the developments with the zebrafish indicate potential for an expansion into research on other animals' neural patterns, including humans. Co-author Kawakami optimistically predicts that “in the future, we can interpret an animal’s behavior, including learning and memory, fear, joy, or anger, based on the activity of particular combinations of neurons.” Even if we never get there, maybe we’ll finally prove, on a neurochemical level, that goldfish shouldn’t get such a bad rap for their terrible memories.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Courtesy of The National Aviary
arrow
Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
iStock
iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios