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Star-Nosed Moles

April 24, 2017

What star-nosed moles reveal about the specialized mammalian brain.

Transcript

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Front view of the star-nosed mole. (Ken Catania)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Brain lessons from a burrowing beast. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

With its star-shaped snout and bear claw paws, the star-nosed mole is one of the strangest creatures on earth. Its twenty-two tentacle like facial appendages are sensitive touch organs that let the burrowing creatures identify the worms and insects they eat. At the American Association of Anatomists conference, Vanderbilt neuroscientist Ken Catania described how the creatures are helping him understand the evolution of the neocortex, a part of the brain seen only in mammals.

KEN CATANIA (Vanderbilt University):

Star-nosed moles have maps of the star for touch that you can actually see in the brain anatomy. And that tells us a whole lot about how that area of neocortex is organized.

HIRSHON:

The work provides insights into the rules of neocortex design and function operating in all mammals, and provides a model for the evolution of the human visual system. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon