Chickadees have a masterful memory thanks to brain patterns similar to barcodes | Trending Viral hub


Faulty memory sometimes gets the best of us, like when we struggle to find a pair of keys or a lost phone. There is good reason to invest in recent research on the humble titmouse, which apparently has the mind of a steel trap. In fact, these birds can remember things so well that they could help us understand how a memory takes shape.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute took a closer look at the brains of black-capped chickadees, an effort that has yielded an exciting revelation about the creation of memories.

It turns out that neural activity in the brains of chickadees allows them to store memories of locations in the form of different “barcodes.” Researchers believe that this activity can even occur in the brains of other animals and in the human brain. Their findings have been detailed in a new document published In the diary Cell.

Memorize to survive

The ability of chickadees to memorize thousands of locations a day comes in handy during the winter; While other birds migrate during this time, chickadees do not. Remembering the exact place where they hid food during the warmer months is essential for their survival.

Like all other vertebrates (including humans), chickadees possess a hippocampus, a vital brain structure that facilitates memory. However, the specific neural activity in the hippocampus that encodes memories has eluded scientists.

“The question we’re trying to answer is, ‘What physically is a memory?'” said Selmaan Chettih, co-first author of the study. in a press release.

To find an explanation for this enigma, the research team He turned to the chickadees. They built indoor arenas for the birds to hide food, observing their brains in the process.

“Scientists have marveled at the memory of these birds for decades, but what has been a mystery is what was happening in their brains to support these memories,” he said. Dmitriy Aronov, principal investigator at the Zuckerman Institute and assistant professor of neuroscience at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a news release. “We now have neural recording and behavioral tracking tools at our disposal to advance our knowledge of how these birds are able to perform these feats of memory.”

Read more: In the bird world, you need big brains or big guts to survive in extremes.

Forming the barcodes

In the experiments, a black-capped chickadee hid sunflower seeds in holes in the sand while the team monitored activity in its hippocampus. Six cameras were also installed to record the birds’ movements and an artificial intelligence system tracked them as they stored and retrieved seeds.

The team found that when a chickadee stored a seed, neurons in the hippocampus activated in a sudden pattern that then reactivated when the bird retrieved that specific food item.

“These are very striking patterns of activity, but they are very brief: they only last about a second on average,” Chettih said. “If you didn’t know exactly when and why they happened, it would be very easy to miss them.”

Examining their data, the team concluded that describing these patterns as neural “barcodes” seemed appropriate.

According to the researchers, barcode patterns exist independently of the activity of place cells, which are neurons in the hippocampus that encode memories of locations. Each barcode represents a distinct food caching event, even when caches are cached in the same location at different times or when multiple caches are made close to each other in rapid succession.

“We found that place cells don’t actually change when birds form new memories. Instead, during food caching, there are additional activity patterns beyond those observed with place cells,” Aronov said.

One of the remaining questions for researchers is whether the barcoding process is common in other animals and humans, something future studies hope to resolve.

“If you think about how people define themselves, who they think they are, their sense of self, then episodic memories of particular events are central to that,” Chettih said. “That’s what we’re trying to understand.”

Read more: The rare courtship of the birds of paradise

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