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Home / Science / A crocodile enters an MRI scanner – and listens to Bach

A crocodile enters an MRI scanner – and listens to Bach



You are a scientist who wants to understand better how the reptilian brain reacts to sounds. How's it going?

You slide crocodiles into an MRI scanner and of course you play Bach for them. (Everyone knows that crocodiles do not like Beethoven.)

Next on their playlist: Hip-Hop?


Michel Gunther

In an attempt to study evolutionary neurobiological patterns, an international research team turned to the crocodile, an ancient vertebrate species that has barely changed over millions of years, linking dinosaurs to modern birds.

They wanted to estimate how crocodiles respond to complex sounds rather than simple sounds, so they placed small, one-year Nile crocodiles in an MRI scanner for animal research. (Their five volunteers came from a French crocodile farm.) Then they observed the brain activity of the reptiles when they heard Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, which has rapid amplitude changes and a broad frequency spectrum.

They were surprised to discover brain activity patterns very similar to those identified in mammals and birds in similar studies.

"Given the fact that birds produce very cultured" music "themselves, they can be expected to have specialized brain areas to process complex sounds, but we did not expect crocodiles to have areas that look and feel similar seem to work. " German neuroscientist Felix Ströckens says.

Ströckens is one of the researchers who has just published a study entitled "Functional MRI in the Nile Crocodile: A New Pathway for Evolutionary Neurobiology" in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

While scientists have studied anatomically anatomical crocodile brains, functional studies like these are rare, and scanning the crocs posed some practical challenges. For example, the researchers were unable to deeply anesthetize the animals as this would affect their brain activity. And even smaller crocodiles, in this case 3.2 feet or one meter long, can exercise a fairly large force with their tails and pines.

"Fortunately, they remained very calm," reports Ströcken. Yes, classical music has a calming effect.

The researchers also had to optimize the scanner to accommodate the crocodile's physiology. They call their experiment a technical breakthrough that has proven that functional MRI can be used in reptiles that have very different body temperatures and respiratory patterns than mammals or birds.

"This will enable future studies to study many species that have not been studied using this non-invasive method," says Ströcken.

The other bonus? There are some really cultivated crocodiles running around now.

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