When we navigate through our environment, do we track mostly in two dimensions or in three? Clearly, we can move in all three dimensions, but does our internal map relate to the vertical direction in the same way as it does to the horizontal axes on the ground?
That question has not yet been definitively answered, but recent research on flying bats shows us what three-dimensional navigation looks like in the brain.
It turns out that fruit bats also mostly navigate in two dimensions, since quite a bit of their flying time involves getting from their caves straight to their favorite fruit trees. But once they get to a tree, they switch to three-dimensional flitting patterns that cover the entire volumetric space around the tree.
To gain some insight into the workings of the bats’ internal mapping system, neurobiologist Dr. Nahum Ulanovsky attempted a feat no one had tried before: seeing into a bats’ brain while it was on the wing. His team spent several years developing a tiny device with electrodes that could measure neuronal activity in the bats’ brains while allowing them to fly naturally. They then let their subjects swoop and dive around some “fruit trees” – poles dangling cups filled with fruit – up inside their oh-so-cool, fully-equipped bat lab.
Image: Dr Yossi Yovel in the lab of Dr. Nachum Ulanovsky, Weizmann Institute of Science
It seems that bat neurons, at least, relate to all three dimensions equally. Their internal maps – as well as ours – are plotted in groups of neurons called place cells. These cells respond to specific locations in the spatial environment. As the bat moves though space, the corresponding place cells send off “you are here” signals. By comparing the bats’ actual locations with the neurons’ signals, the researchers found that each place cell responds to a spherical space – i.e., it has the same resolution in all directions.
Do human place cells map a similar space, or are ours flatter? On the one hand, says Ulanovsky, our nearest relatives probably have place cells very much like those of bats, since they navigate in three-dimensional space through the tree canopy. On the other hand, since we basically walk around in two dimensions, our up-and-down axis may have lost some of its resolution over time, making our internal mapping closer to that of animals that crawl rather than those that fly. This, says Ulanovsky, is a fascinating open question that awaits further experiments.
- Log in to post comments
I wonder if it differs slightly from person to person. Would be nice to know why some people are great at navigation, and others are hopeless.
Place cells are only part of the story (see the last piece we wrote on Ulanovsky's research), so the question might be whether there are differences in the place cells, themselves, in the arrangements of these cells, or in communication networks between place cells and other neurons.
Greetings! I've been following your web site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Lubbock Texas! Just needed to mention keep up the great work!
Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read something like this before. So great to discover somebody with some authentic suggestions on this topic. realy thank you for starting this up. this website is one factor that's wanted on the internet, someone with somewhat originality. useful occupation for bringing 1 thing new towards the internet!
I'd be curious to know if the study included people who fly airplanes or work in 0 gravity. Do their brains get more practice in the up and down dimension? Would they be more similar to bats because their orientation is different and/or because they "practice" more in the 3rd. dimension?
Verily, the blessings of His Noodliness shall devolve on thee and thy progeny whom thou schoolest within the ways from the Sauce. For thou shalt righteously provide wisdom to the mind, and carbohydrates towards the body, by following the path of the Spaghedeity, and thy children shall learn the joys of fettucini and tiramisu, and shall rise up and call thee Blessed.. . RAmen!
I am curious to locate out what weblog system you're using? I'm getting some minor security problems with my latest website and I'd like to discover something more safe. Do you've any options?
Like almost every blogger, we use wordpress.
Some genuinely good and useful information on this web site, besides I believe the layout has received fantastic features.