More to bird brain than bearing messages

Published: 22nd July 2013 07:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd July 2013 07:23 AM   |  A+A-

The next time someone is rebuked for being a “birdbrain” — its dictionary meaning being a stupid person or one with a short attention span — he need not take umbrage. For the wirings of a human brain is similar to that of a bird, a new study has shown. A team of researchers at Imperial College London has been able to discover the unlikely connection by comparing the brain diagrams of humans to different species from the animal kingdom. The researchers believe that they have identified a common blueprint that explains the shared characteristics in mammals and birds, despite the two following entirely separate evolutionary paths.

The results show that for mammals and birds, areas critical for high-level cognition like long-term memory and problem solving are wired to other regions of the brain similarly. For instance, the area of the brain known as hippocampus, which serves as a long-term memory assistant and a navigational tool, showed similar wiring patterns. The prefrontal cortex, a brain region that comes into play for decision making, was also compared with the avian nidopallium caudolaterale, which has a similar role in birds, and found to be similarly wired up.

The avian findings may not ruffle feathers, unlike Darwin’s historic assertion of man’s descent from “that heroic little monkey”. However, in tandem with the team’s long-term goal to use information drawn from the wiring diagram to build computer models that mimic the brain functions of animals, the results could help create artificial brains that in turn could be tapped to control robots. The intelligence of birds could certainly be acknowledged, beyond their hitherto utilised expertise as carrier pigeons, to create intelligent machines. The role of such advancements cannot be overemphasised for further growth of computer science and the technology industry.


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