Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hmm Science: Birds with Genetic Memory?

A researcher at the University of Sheffield has discovered that the reason birds learn to fly so easily is because latent memories may have been left behind by their ancestors.

It is widely known that birds learn to fly through practice, gradually refining their innate ability into a finely tuned skill. However, according to Dr Jim Stone from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, these skills may be easy to refine because of a genetically specified latent memory for flying.

Dr Stone used simple models of brains called artificial neural networks and computer simulations to test his theory. He discovered that learning in previous generations indirectly induces the formation of a latent memory in the current generation and therefore decreases the amount of learning required. These effects are especially pronounced if there is a large biological 'fitness cost' to learning, where biological fitness is measured in terms of the number of offspring each individual has.

I don't know enough to say anything intelligent here. It's interesting, but I am skeptical. Any bird science or neuro-types out there care to comment?

1 comment:

Zach said...

Genetic memory? Sounds like that terrible Dougal Dixon "Man After Man" book. More like there's a genetic component to the instinct of learning to fly. As baby birds hop and flap around their nests, they develop the muscles and coordination necessary to actually fly down the road.