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A Window into the Mind

Researchers have generated an image of thoughts flitting through the brains of zebrafish.

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

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For the first time ever, researchers have visually recorded the brain activity of an intact animal engaging in natural behavior. A team of Japanese researchers accomplished the feat by genetically inserting a very sensitive fluorescent probe into specific neurons within the brains of zebrafish larvae. When the scientists exposed their swimming subjects to food items (free-swimming paramecia) or dots on screens placed before the fish’s eyes, they could trace the cascade of calcium ion signals traversing the nerve fibers in their brains. The results were published in Current Biology last week (January 31).

“In the future, we can interpret an animal’s behavior, including learning and memory, fear, joy, or anger, based on the activity of particular combinations of neurons,” senior author Koichi Kawakami of Japan's National Institute of Genetics said in a statement. “We can make the invisible visible.”

He added that the new method could also be able to...

Muto et al., “Real-time visualization of neuronal activity during perception,” Current Biology, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.12.040, 2013.

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