Finding Their Way

Why researchers turned a goldfish into a cyborg.

On the one hand, this headgear looks like something a cyberfish would wear. On the other, it's not far from a fashion statement someone at the Kentucky Derby might make.

But scientists didn't affix the device just for laughs : They were curious about the underlying brain mechanisms that allow fish to navigate their world.

''Navigation is an extremely important aspect of behavior, because we navigate to find food, to find shelter, to escape predators,'' said Ronen Segev, a neuroscientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel who was part of a team that fitted 15 fish with the headgear for a new study.

Putting a computer on a goldfish takes a steady hand : A goldfish brain is only half an inch long [ 1.3 centimeters ] and the electrodes attached to the brain were the diameter of human hair.

But with the electrodes working, researchers found that navigating for fish is subtly different from that of mammals. When the fish swam close to the walls of their tank, the navigation cells in their brains lit up.

Such cells in a mammal specialize in precisely locating the animal in its environment. In fish, they let the animal know it is approaching a boundary or an obstacle, which is useful for a creature pushed around by the ever shifting currents of a watery environment. [ Kate Golembiewski ]


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