Nature’s noise: from birds and our brains

Nature’s noise: from birds and our brains


It’s just after dark and it’s really noisy here – so much so, it’s hard to concentrate….It’s not traffic outside or the tv program that’s blasting which my husband is trying to convince me that he needs to watch – no it is the Nature's Noise: From birds to our Brainsbirds! There are so many new birdsongs around that it drives me to distraction. In the morning I hear the loon, crows and a bird that makes a “reebee reebee” type of sound and in the evening, always after dark, there is another more complicated song. My new favourite website is Cornell Lab of Orinthology’s All About Birds. The challenge though, is that is so many birds and you almost need to know the bird you’re looking for in order to find it’s song. Anyone out there amongst you who knows something about birds? Please contact me!

This Is Your Brain on Injectable Implants
I admit: I’m guilty of making frequent jokes about how much easier things will be when we all have chips in our brains. But even I was taken aback by the news coming out of Harvard University: Researchers have discovered a method by which a tiny polymer mesh can be injected into mouse brain tissue, where it unfurls and observes neuron activity — and it could become a platform for all kinds of therapeutic interventions.

The mouse trial is basically a stone’s throw away from human implantation, where the mesh could eventually ameliorate the effects of conditions like Parkinson’s, or events like a stroke. (In addition to turning you into a really cool cyborg!) The study outlining this development was published last month in Nature Nanotechnology.

The mesh is a game changer in the field of neuroscience: most current brain-observing technologies are too narrowly focused to get a good idea of how thousands of neurons work together. They are also too rigid to stay on a target cell when the subject breathes, or its heart beats. The mesh is wide-ranging and flexible enough that these problems can be eliminated, and a whole new way of looking at the brain becomes possible. It is made of:

“conductive polymer threads with either nanoscale electrodes or transistors attached at their intersections. Each strand is as soft as silk and as flexible as brain tissue itself. Free space makes up 95% of the mesh, allowing cells to arrange themselves around it. […]The team [rolls] up a 2D mesh a few centimetres wide and then use[s] a needle just 100 micrometres in diameter to inject it directly into a target region through a hole in the top of the skull. The mesh unrolls to fill any small cavities and mingles with the tissue. Nanowires that poke out can be connected to a computer to take recordings and stimulate cells.”

The rodent subjects’ brains see the mesh as a friendly material, and cells soon grow on it, integrating it fully into the environment it observes. But, of course, further stringent testing must occur before we see human use of this technology. (The researchers are thinking of next implanting the mesh in the brains of newborn mice, to see if it will expand as they grow.) The possibilities for cognitive improvement and support are fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds (pun intended)!