miércoles, 13 de febrero de 2013

Night-vision rat becomes first animal with sixth sense

ORIGINAL: New Scientist
Douglas Heaven, reporter
13 February 2013

The latest bionic superhero is a rat: its brain hooked up to an infrared detector, it's become the first animal to be given a sixth sense.

Developed by Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, the system connects a head-mounted sensor to a brain region that normally processes touch sensations from whiskers. As shown in this video, the rat's brain is tricked when infrared light is detected, giving it a new sense organ. "Instead of seeing, the rats learned how to touch the light," says Nicolelis.

Even though the touch-processing brain area acquires a new role, the team found that it continues to process touch sensations from whiskers, somehow dividing its time between both types of signal. "The adult brain is a lot more plastic than we thought," says Nicolelis.

The finding could lead to new brain prostheses that restore sight in humans with a damaged visual cortex. By bypassing the damaged part of the brain altogether, it might be possible to wire up a video camera to a part of the brain that processes touch, letting people "touch" what the camera sees.

According to Nicolelis, it could also lead to superhero powers for humans. "It could be X-rays, radio waves, anything," he says. "Superman probably had a prosthetic device that nobody knew of."

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