RIG: Evolution of Neural Codes: Insights from the Crocodilian Dome Pressure Receptors

Project: Research project

Project Details


How does one find a friend in a crowd? The way in which brains perform scene analysis is still unknown and it turns out to be a difficult problem for scientists to crack. There are many features of the environment that need to be differentially encoded by the nervous system to lead to an appropriate behavior. Crocodilian brains face the same problem as any other animal: localizing a source of interest in a busy background. But for them, the task is perhaps easier and understanding how they do it gives scientists a peak into the general rules of computation that brains use to carry out scene analysis. Crocodilians often hunt in complete darkness, waiting half-submerged for prey to disturb the water interface. All crocodilians have evolved specialized sensory organs (DPRs) that can detect small disruptions of the water. These are dome-like in shape and are linked to a dedicated neural pathway. DPRs provide an array of sensors that are tuned to a two-dimensional surface wave front. DPRs are therefore an excellent model system to study stimulus source location and feature detection because the scene is relatively simple and the stimulus easily reproducible. This project investigates the psychophysical basis of DPR sensitivity and general processing rules by examining the anatomical substrate that allows for the transmission of information, and by using electrophysiology to determine the codes used by the nervous system. The results will provide insights into understanding the ways in which animals take the environment apart and put it back together again in their brains. The study of a non-traditional animal species can be advantageous when introducing science to the general public, through general public talks and filming and consultation. The program of study integrates these public outreach opportunities with the research. This project provides educational opportunities to high school students, undergraduate and graduate students as well as a postdoctoral fellow. The behavioral setup is simple, and easy to operate. Thus, it is particularly attractive for relatively inexperienced researchers such as undergraduates and high school students.

Effective start/end date9/1/088/31/12


  • National Science Foundation: $174,999.00


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