Recently a study led by “Srinivasa Chakravarthy “ from Department of Biotechnology, at IIT Madras on “the movement of virtual animals in the computer simulation” found about the navigation behavior in rats moving in two dimensions and three dimensional in bats. The team looks forward to using these observations in engineering autonomous vehicles and drones.
In past also the studies have shown that some parts like hippocampus and parahippocampus in rats brain contain a special cell known as “spatial cells” which helps in creating an awareness map for the navigation. In fact, for discovering these cells three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in the year 2014. They discovered the cells responsible for positioning system in the brain. They found that the inner GPS in the brain helps in calculating and coordinating the actual position, distance and direction of travel.
The researchers by using mathematical models and computer simulations looked at these various spatial cells when rats move along the maze. When the rat is at a certain place in a room, one of the cells known as 'place cells’ get activated and another type of cells called 'grid cells’ coordinate this system and help in positioning and pathfinding.
“We developed a hierarchical neural network that simulated the neural GPS system reported from the brain of a bat during its flight in 3D space. The network not only explained the formation of 3D place cells but also predicted the existence of novel and yet undiscovered types of spatial cells that could potentially code for 3D space,” explains Karthik Soman from the Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras, and first author of the paper published in Nature Communications.
One such spatial cell predicted from the computer model is a ‘plane cell’ that fires when the animal crosses a plane in 3D space. Another spatial cell predicted is a ‘stack cell’ that fires when the animal flies around multiple planes.
As bats are the only flying mammals, Michael Yartsev, one of the authors of the paper, and his group at the University of California Berkeley, further examined bats and the spatial cells in their brain while flying in a 3D space. Using wireless technologies, his group was able to monitor bats’ brain activity when they fly around and was able to show the functioning of the place cells in real animals.
“We are now conducting more experiments on bats to check for more 3D spatial codes in the brain. We are looking forward to studying how brain processes large-scale navigation which we do seamlessly in our day-to-day life,” adds Dr. Soman.
The researchers are hoping that an understanding of the spatial navigation system in the brain can also help in engineering automobiles, drones, and underwater vehicles.
Tags : #India#Science#Study