COUNCIL CHRONICLE – It’s an experiment that sounds like the plot of a bizarre science fiction film — or maybe a comedy — except that it’s real.
A team of scientists has been wrangling Nile crocodiles, trussing them up, and placing them into MRI machines. They have been doing this so that they can scan the reptiles’ brain while these latter are listening to classical music.
Why this Strange New Study on Nile Crocodiles?
An immediate question comes to mind: Why? Well, there is a solid scientific method behind this seeming madness. Crocodiles have gone through 200 million years of evolution with little or no change.
They have also come to represent a link between the extinct dinosaurs and modern-day birds. Thus, MRI scans of their brain functions could provide new insights into the evolutionary process.
Researchers were interested to see how the brains of Nile crocodiles work under specific stimulus modes. Once strapped into an MRI machine, the soothing tones of Johann Sebastian Bach’s compositions are played for the toothy predators. Concomitantly, their brain functions are mapped in real time.
A Nile crocodile was borrowed from a zoo for this new experiment. It was mildly sedated and then harnessed into a restraining device. Scientists wanted to see how specific portions of the crocodile brain lighted up and reacted to different types of stimulus.
Playing a Bach concerto was leveraged for a complex sound pattern. The scientists were amazed and intrigued as they detected almost no difference between bird brain reactions compared to those of the crocodile brain.
The innovative new experiment was carried out at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. Mehdi Behroozi is one of the project’s lead researchers. Behroozi told reporters that he and his fellow neurobiologists are baffled by the results.
They are puzzled as to why the MRI scans of crocodiles listening to Bach can be almost indistinguishable from those of birds. This comes as even more of a surprise when taking into account the fact that birds sing their own complex musical compositions. In theory, bird brains should display more sophisticated reactions to classical music.
The results of this unusual study were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B – Biological Sciences.
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