Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Study unveils part of brain's mystery

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

A study undertaken by Taiwanese scientists offering insights into the complexities of the human brain was recently featured in a popular science journal.

Using fruit flies as their subject, local researchers were able to map out the neural coding for olfactory stimuli at the higher brain center.

Their finding was published in last month's issue of Cell, a leading international science publication.

Chiang Ann-shyn (江安世), director of the brain research center at National Tsing Hua University, said fruit flies have olfactory receptors that take in smell signals and translate them into neural coding, which is further transformed in the calyx of the brain's mushroom body -- an essential olfactory-associated learning center of fruit flies.

Chiang's team found that once the mushroom body has integrated and calculated all the smell signals, they are transmitted to the higher processing center in the brain through different pathways.

The sense of smell is processed through multiple layers, Chiang said. The olfactory receptors do not make distinctions among the incoming signals, but the multiple-layer processing helps intensify the real signal by filtering out the minor ones. The brain eventually integrates and computes all sensory signals, enabling a person to make a decision or act.

The study has produced significant findings that contribute to a better understanding of how the human brain works, Chiang said.

"Neurologists know that many patterns of human behavior have a genetic origin," Chiang said. "But knowing how genes function in the complicated brain neural networks so that cells can behave in a controlled manner remains a challenge to scientists."

He added that while fruit flies have smaller brains and fewer genes than humans, they have a sense of smell similar to that of humans and can be easily observed and manipulated by scientists.

With the progress his research team has made, Chiang estimated that a database mapping the whole brain of fruit flies should be completed within 10 years.

Because of the study's significance, several academic institutions have expressed an interest in working with Chiang's team, including Harvard University and a research organization in Vienna.

Researchers at Harvard have identified genetic sources that explain fruit flies' aggressive behavior, while those in Vienna have been studying genetic patterns for homosexuals, he said.

This story has been viewed 6151 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top