Boosting the Human Senses

Boosting the Human Senses

Mackenzie Thompson

by Mackenzie Thompson

Life Saver, AMC

posted on Nov 28, 2013, at 9:51 pm


Along with our human senses come limits we cannot hear certain pitches that are too high or too low. We can’t see infrared or ultraviolet light. Scientists have been working on discovering ways to broaden our sensory boundaries, hoping for one day people being able to feel through prosthetic limbs, see heat via infrared light or even develop a sixth sense for magnetic north. A study recently published in Nature Communications is just a small step to opening these doors. This study, done at Duke University, consisted of Neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues using brain implants to teach 6 rats to recognize infrared light, which is usually invisible to their eyes.

The rats were trained to poke their nose inside a port when the LED light above it lit up. Researchers then surgically attached infrared cameras to the rats’ head and electrodes into the rats’ primary somatosensory cortex (the region of the brain in charge of sensory processing) and wired them together. When the camera detected infrared light, it stimulated the animals’ whisker neurons. The closer the rats got to the infrared light, or the more they turned their head toward it, the stronger the stimulation – in the same was brain activation responds to light seen by the eyes. Then the rats were let loose in their chambers, but this time, the scientists used infrared light to signal the ports rather than the LEDs. It took about 26 days of practice for the six rats to use the infrared signals to find the correct ports.

After months of doing so, the animals were also able to respond to whisker neuron stimulation. This proposes that the sensory neurons can respond to multiple types of cues. This concept could help scientists create “sensory channels” for prosthetic limbs that provide sensory feedback to and from artificial limbs. The findings also suggest that the human brain can handle an expanded sensory supply and broaden our minds.

To read the full article, go to Scientific American

About Mackenzie

Mackenzie is a lover of world travel, photography, design, style and Chinese cooking. She is passionate about working towards a purpose, recently graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Media and Marketing, and is currently residing in Manhattan.

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