Neuronal dance and garage neuroscience experiments

I found two items about neuroscience in one day that tickled my fancy. The Watching Dance Project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council recently announced a study that found experienced dance spectators mirrored the movement they were watching. From the March 21, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

Experienced ballet spectators with no physical expertise in ballet showed enhanced muscle-specific motor responses when watching live ballet, according to a Mar. 21 report in the open access journal PLoS ONE.

This result when watching such a formal dance as ballet is striking in comparison to the similar enhanced response the authors found in empathic observers when watching an Indian dance rich in hand gestures. This is important because it shows that motor expertise in the movements observed is not required to have enhanced neural motor responses when just watching dance performances.

The authors suggest that spectators covertly simulate the dance movements for styles that they regularly watch, causing the increased corticospinal excitability.

The article ‘Motor Simulation without Motor Expertise: Enhanced Corticospinal Excitability in Visually Experienced Dance Spectators‘ by Jola C, Abedian-Amiri A, Kuppuswamy A, Pollick FE, Grosbras M-H in PLoS ONE 7(3): e33343. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033343 is freely available for reading (open access).

I went searching for the Watching Dance Project website and found these images of dancers and a neuron, respectively,

From the Wtachng Dance Project website.

 

From the Watching Dance Project website.

According to the project’s About Us page,

‘Watching Dance: Kinesthetic Empathy’ uses audience research and neuroscience to explore how dance spectators respond to and identify with dance. It is a multidisciplinary project, involving collaboration across four institutions (University of Manchester, University of Glasgow, York St John University and Imperial College London).

The second neuroscience item for this posting is about listening to neurons. From the March 21, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

Amateurs have a new tool for conducting simple neuroscience experiments in their own garage: the SpikerBox. As reported in the Mar. 21 issue of the open access journal PLoS ONE, the SpikerBox lets users amplify and listen to neurons’ electrical activity – like those in a cockroach leg or cricket torso – and is appropriate for use in middle or high school educational programs, or by amateurs.

The work was a project from Backyard Brains, a start-up company focused on developing neuroscience educational resources. In the paper, the authors, Timothy Marzullo and Gregory Gage, describe a sample experiment using a cockroach leg stuck with two needles and monitoring the electrical signals. They also provide instructions for using the SpikerBox to answer specific experimental questions, like how neurons carry information about touch, how the brain tells muscles to move, and how drugs affect neurons, and an online portal provides further instructional materials. These are just a few examples of the many ways this tool can be used.

“Our mission is to lower the barrier-to-entry for students interested in learning about the brain. We hope our manuscript finds its way into the hands of high school teachers around the world”, says Dr. Marzullo.

The article, The SpikerBox: A Low Cost, Open-Source BioAmplifier for Increasing Public Participation in Neuroscience Inquiry, by Timothy C. Marzullo and Gregory J. Gage can be found in PLoS ONE 7(3): e30837. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030837 and is freely available for reading (open access).

Backyard Brains can be found here along with the SpikerBox kit and other kits for sale and for use in your garage and backyard neuroscience experiments.

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  1. Pingback: Steering cockroaches in the lab and in your backyard—cutting edge neuroscience « FrogHeart

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