Pigeon hippocampus

A brief post today while I attend to other duties and work on a longer piece.  Science News reports on a study in which researchers studied pigeons’ homing ability and their hippocampus.  This is only half interesting; the other half raises ethical concerns.  When the humans took the pigeons 19-30 kilometers from home to an unfamiliar locality, the pigeons roamed around for awhile and took side excursions as they made their way home.  When  they got closer to home, they flew more directly there.  Then they removed the birds’ hippocampi, which I have discussed several times before about a variety of species.  When they took these birds to the unfamiliar place (presumably after adequate convalescence) they initially flew directly towards home and when closer, they had trouble finding their loft.

                                        pigeon2

I am not sure what this trauma to the pigeons gained us in knowledge.  We have known since the late 1970s that the hippocampus provides species with a spatial map, novelty detection and processing, and memory input.  Plus, the hippocampus receives multi-modal input and projects to other areas of the forebrain, so that its removal would disrupt many systems.  Sure they saw a difference, an impairment, after surgery, but this does not seem to illuminate anything much new and they did brain surgery.  The cost-benefit ratio here seems quite esoteric to me.  Coo-coo.

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