Category Archives: Odd

Mapping the Human Brain

What do you use a map for?  You use it to find things.  You use it to remember where you’ve been.  You bring it up on your iPhone when you don’t want to talk to someone so you look busy.  What do neuroscientists use a brain map for?  Pretty much all the same things (especially when they don’t want to deal with annoying grant deadlines).

The Allen Institute for Brain Science has released a comprehensive map of the human brain.  This is big.  This is really big.  This means that they’ve mapped out (to the best of our ability, so far) what the brain looks like on a genetic level.  They used a combination of imaging and genetic sequencing analyses to create 3D structures of the brain that can be used for future research in things like Alzheimers, obesity, or MS.

Before this map, the Allen Institute had mapped a rat brain which has lead to at least 500 scientific breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience.   Researchers and scientists alike can access this free material to examine what other research has found, hoping to find some sort of overlooked, unexamined bit of information.

In the end, all this means is that we’re going to see a lot new research possible because of this.  Most people won’t even know what a big impact this will have, but it’s great for research.  Neuroscience FTW!


Laughter part II: Laughing Hyenas

Why didn’t the nasal retina cross the road?  Because it already crossed at the optic chiasm!

Alright, so that really wasn’t funny.  But let’s keep going with our conversation of laughter.   Some have said that laughter is one of the only characteristics that are specific to humans, but can this be true?  We’ve all seen the laughing hyenas in the Lion King, but what’s so funny?  Have you ever seen a dog’s face while scratching their belly?  If that’s not laughter, I don’t know what is.

Researchers have started to believe that animals also share this human like quality of laughter.  But then why can’t we hear it?  It’s similar to why we can’t hear bats use sonar to locate prey in the night.  Animals are producing this ‘laughter’ at such a high frequencies that we are unable to hear it with our puny human ears.  Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University, examines this phenomenon a little more closely by tickling rats.  Yes, I said it: tickling rats.

Seems pretty strange, right?  Panksepp has been studying joy, along with numerous other emotions, in rats and he’s found that we’re really not too different from our animal counterparts.  It seems like everything that once made us human can now be applied to the animal world.  My prediction?  This will encourage researchers to look at communication with animals in a new light, try new ways to form a connection.  Just don’t be expecting me to try my jokes out on my rats anytime soon.  They’re a tough crowd.

I am neuroscience. And you can, too!

What does it mean to be a neuroscientist?  Does it mean you perform brain surgery on a day by day basis?  Does it mean that you can diagnose every aspect associated with the brain?  Does it mean that people will believe that you’re most likely the smartest person alive?

All the answers to these questions are no (except the last one, but I mean, you don’t have any control over what other people think of you…).  Neuroscience is so much more than McDreamys and Frankensteins. In fact, neuroscience is more than just the brain.

When I tell people that I’m a neuroscientist, the most common reaction is, “Wow, you must be really smart.”  And although the compliment is extremely flattering, neuroscience is just like any other profession that people can specialize in.  I’m just lucky that I find the nervous system really interesting.

Neuroscience is everything related to the nervous system.  That means your eyes,your ears, your mouth and nose (where have I heard that before?)   Anything with perception or feeling can be traced back to neuroscience.  Really, anything and everything can be traced back to neuroscience.

When you take a look at it, everyone experiences neuroscience on a daily basis.  So, I guess we’re all neuroscience experts!  (And then everyone can have puppies and world peace.)