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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid