Rats, like humans, can deduce an impressive amount of information about their physical surroundings with their sense of touch. Humans do this most effectively with their hands and fingertips, while a rat experiences a significant portion of its tactile sensation via its whiskers. What's intriguing about this parallel is that whiskers and hands are not only similar on a functional level, but a neurological one, as well.
"Rats are a really wonderful model system to try to understand sensory perception, and specifically the sense of touch," explains neurobiologist and biological engineer Mitra Hartmann. "Even though whiskers and hands might seem to be very different, the pathways that carry the information from the whiskers to the rats brain and from the hand to the human brain are actually very similar."
The latest installment of Science Bytes — a new series produced by Kikim Media in partnership with PBS and PLoS, featured below — explores how Hartmann and other scientists are using a physical, 3-D model of rat whiskers to understand how they relay information about tactile sensation to the brain.
Read more about Hartmann's research at her lab's website.
[Spotted at The Atlantic]