June 26, 2018

‘Baby Whale’ Electrical Zaps May Shed Light on Epilepsy

A fish that uses electrical charges to sense and communicate with the world around it could provide new insights into diseases such as epilepsy, according to new research.

Brienomyrus brachyistius, commonly known as the baby whale, sends out electrical spurts that last only a few tenths of a thousandth of a second and allow it to navigate without letting predators know it’s there.

In a new paper in Current Biology, scientists outline how the fish developed a unique bioelectric security system that lets them produce incredibly fast and short pulses of electricity so they can communicate without jamming one another’s signals, while also steering clear of the highly sensitive electric detection systems of predatory catfish.

“These fish have a real ‘need for speed’ when it comes to their electric signals,” says Jason Gallant, assistant professor of integrative biology at Michigan State University. “Many of the genes involved in making electric discharge signals, including these potassium channels, show signatures of natural selection that emphasize this need.”

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