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Egyptian Fruit Bat Study Leads to Discovery of 3D Compass in Bat Brains

Weizmann Institute scientists have discovered bat brains have a 3D compass. A mental compass that has a mechanism similar to 3D was found by neuroscientists from the institute while examining the movement of the Egyptian fruit bat with a video monitoring system. As bats navigate through the air, this 3D compass helps the flying mammals to position themselves efficiently.

3D compass

(Photo: Wikimedia)

The researchers also implanted a microelectrode in the brains of the bats to understand why the animals rotate their heads in flight. With the data collected from microelectrodes, the researchers discovered that a special brain cell in bat brains specialize in 3D direction. They also gathered other data from the electrodes while the bats were in flight.

Certain neurons are activated after their head is pointed at particular 3D position. Their other brain cells also get activated or silent when bats are in an upward or downward position.

The researchers wrote: “Head-direction cells were organized along a functional-anatomical gradient in the presubiculum, transitioning from 2D to 3D representations”. They also suggested that results with the data collected from the electrodes demonstrate a 3D head-direction mechanism in bats, which could support them when navigating in a 3D environment.

The researchers also found that these 3D neurons are not positioned in the same area where the bats 2D head direction neurons are located. This indicates that these two parameters work self-sufficiently and independent of one another. The notion that head-direction cells in the hippocampal formation act as a 3D neutral compass was supported by this study.

The researchers believe that the neural 3D compass of dogs, cats, primates and other mammals work in a similar way as the bats’, which work as a circular for the bats sense of direction. The human brain can encode 3D representation of space in their brains, which separates humans entirely from other animals.

Because humans live in a multidimensional environment filled with multi-storied buildings, etc., it is critical for humans to recognize and process elevation and three-dimensional direction.

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