News / Science & Technology

Electric Fish Offer Insight Into Human Central Nervous System

Gnathonemus petersii is among the electric fish species found in Africa. (Volker Hofmann)
Gnathonemus petersii is among the electric fish species found in Africa. (Volker Hofmann)
Rosanne Skirble
Electric fish, which have electric receptors in their skin that serve as a kind of radar system to help them navigate, communicate and locate food and mates, could provide insight into how our own central nervous system works.   

Electric fish live mostly in fresh water in tropical rivers and are found primarily in only two parts of the world.

There are two main groups, one in South America, the Gymnotiform, and that’s about 200 species that are known," said Rudiger Krahe, associate biology professor at Canada’s McGill University. "And then there is a second group in Africa, the Mormyri fish, and there are also about 200 species.”  

These two groups evolved independently, yet share the same ability to generate and sense weak electric waves. Their electric fields can be recorded with simple devices that pick up the signals in the water.  

This mean-looking adult electric male brown ghost knifefish hunts at night in the murky dark fresh waters of South American rivers. (Guy l'Heureux)
This mean-looking adult electric male brown ghost knifefish hunts at night in the murky dark fresh waters of South American rivers. (Guy l'Heureux)
“We can observe electrically, observe the activity of these fish continuously because they produce these signals non-stop, day and night," Krahe said. "And so we can monitor what they do, what their signals look like, how they modulate them  in different context such as communication and then we can play them back artificially to them in experiments.”

Electric Fish Offer Insight Into Human Central Nervous System
Electric Fish Offer Insight Into Human Central Nervous System i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

While humans never developed this electric sense, our nervous system processes signals from our environment in much the same way as these fish do.

“How information is transmitted, how different aspects of the sensory information are extracted, that’s extremely similar to what happens in the auditory systems, so, in our hearing, and also, in many ways, what happens in vision,” Krahe said.   

The Gymnotus omarorum, an electric species, in its native South American environment, is nestled in the roots of floating plants called camalotes. (Angel Caputi)
The Gymnotus omarorum, an electric species, in its native South American environment, is nestled in the roots of floating plants called camalotes. (Angel Caputi)
Fish don’t have brains nearly as complicated as humans, but many of the structures and pathways are quite similar. That link offers a new approach to understanding human physiology.   

“How we extract sensory information, how we use that to guide our behavior, how our nervous system accomplishes that and of course we do experiments with fish that we cannot do with humans," Krahe said. "And we’re trying to learn general principles of nervous system action, basically, and how behavior is controlled. ”

This research could be applied in studies on the impact of serotonin, a hormone in the central nervous system believed to influence mood and depression.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Timur Tyncherov
June 26, 2013 10:18 AM
This fish ‘in the murky dark fresh waters’ does not look nearly as mean as the image caption puts it. Look better: It smiles shyly, slightly confused by all this attention to its personality. Don’t you be mean to it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid