Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Compasses…. In your brain?

               The brain’s allocentric sense uses, primarily, visual information to help the body understand its place in an environment and its relationship to certain locations. In blind organisms, this sense is severely impleaded, forcing them to rely on other senses to navigate. Recently, tests have been run on blind rats to help give them an artificial allocentric sense using electrical implants in their brains.

               These rats had small “compass” implants attached to their brains that gave small shocks whenever they faced towards north. The direction of the shocks (towards the left or right visual cortex) would allow the rats to always know what direction north would be. In human trials of the same technology, these painless shocks caused the test subjects to see white dots. To test the practical effectiveness of the compasses, the rats were led through a maze with food at the end. Within four days of the implant, rats began showing an 80% success rate in navigating the maze. The shocks were removed for some trials to rule out memorization, resulting in most rats staying lost in the maze.

               Further research into this technology may not only help the blind, but also introduce a suite of other sensors to help us go about our lives more efficiently. Hiroaki Norimoto of the University of Tokyo, co-head of the rat study, claims “I expect that humans can expand their senses through artificial sensors, including those that convey geomagnetism, ultraviolet rays, radioactive rays, humidity, pheromones, ultrasonic sound, or radio waves.” While the main focus of the study was on the allocentric sense, the real discovery is the brain’s positive reaction when interpreting new sensory information. What kind of applications do you think could come from this technology and how do you think effect of lives?

- Dan Staiculescu (Group C)


  1. At the end you mention that humans might be able to expand their senses to be able to see other forms of electromagnetic radiation besides visible light. Don't you think that this could have negative effects? An important function of the sensory systems in the body is to filter out unimportant information so we can focus on what we need to. I'm just thinking, if we add more layers to these sensory systems, they might be less effective and have detrimental effects for people. Very interesting concept though!

    -Carolyn McDonagh

  2. In terms of the use in humans, how useful do you think the information from the sensors would be? What practical uses are there for sensing humidity or radio waves?
    -Meghan Harrington

  3. Interesting post. I can definitely imagine how this would be beneficial to the visually impaired! Though I don't see how detection of pheromones or humidity would be entirely practical, still, it would be an interesting biological advancement.

    -Hilary Mello

  4. This is a very interesting topics. One of the popular theories as to how birds know how and where to migrate is that they too utilize internal compasses and direct themselves based on magnetic waves, and this is the first time I've heard of it in rats so that's definitely something interesting to read about. It's interesting to see what technology and medical advances will come from this knowledge.

    1. This was written by Mark Glasman, by the way.