Scientists show universality in the brain evolution

The ancestors of tree shrew (left) and bush baby (right)...
The ancestors of tree shrew (left) and bush baby (right) have been on separate evolutionary paths since 65 million years. Visual processing centers of their brains, nevertheless, display a common design. Picture source: Wikimedia Commons

( -- Scientists have uncovered a self-organizing biological principle in the brains of three very different, genetically diverse mammals -- but in all three they found the same mathematically precise "pinwheel" organization and orientation of neurons.

The scientists found that this is self-organized, through and not through genes or environment (for example, ferrets raised in the dark still have this type of organization in their developing brains).

The most straightforward way to summarize the importance of this work is to say that this new study demonstrates that complex patterns of connections in the are capable of self-organizing with mathematical precision.

In fact, the notion that a complex pattern can appear in a dynamical system without a central authority or planner has been understood, for example, in the field of physics.

However, in the biological sciences, and in the field neuroscience in particular, self-organization as a developmental force seldom has been recognized. This study, of which Duke researcher Leonard White, PhD., in Duke neurobiology was an author, provides, if not the first, certainly the most well documented case for this agency in . This precise structure arises both from ongoing activity and lateral interactions of the neurons as well as across a neural network.

Universality in the Evolution of Orientation Columns in the Visual Cortex
This image shows an orientation preference map from a prosimian primate, the galago. In this image, the colors represent the activity of columns of neurons that respond preferentially to particular angles in the visual world, such as horizontal (red regions) and vertical (blue regions). The brightness of the colors indicates how selective is the response of neurons in any given position in the map. Pinwheels are those smaller regions in the map where all colors are organized around a central dark point. The entire image shows about 60 square millimeters of the primary visual processing area in the brain of a galago. Image credit: Duke University

The findings, published today in Science, may cause scientists to think in new ways about how such a complex system as the human brain with its 100 billion neurons, gets wired up to begin with, given the relative dearth of genes in the human genome and the relative lack of environmental experiences in the newborn that already has advanced neural architecture in its .

This demonstration of self-organization in brain development may also have implications for rehabilitation in the brains of people recovering from neurological injury or disease. As neural circuits in the recovering brain reactivate growth programs that shaped development earlier in life, it seems likely that self-organization will continue to influence the architecture of whenever they are plastic and capable of changing their strength and the distribution of their connections.

The challenge for future studies will be to understand how genetic instructions and early life experiences interact within a self-organizing network of brain cells, and how such interactions can be optimized to enhance function in normal developing brains, as well as in mature brains that have to adapt to injury and disease.

A word about the orientation of the neurons: The orientation is such that from any central neuron, the surrounding neurons are in a repeat pattern of orientation, and that central neuron is also a part of the repeat pattern in a neighboring pinwheel, with mathematical precision. respond to vertical, horizontal or oblique patterns to create the images that brains can assimilate and process as our 3-D world.

Explore further

New adult brain cells may be central to lifelong learning

More information: Universality in the Evolution of Orientation Columns in the Visual Cortex, Matthias Kaschube et al., Science, November 5, 2010.
Provided by Duke University
Citation: Scientists show universality in the brain evolution (2010, November 4) retrieved 23 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Nov 05, 2010
Visual processing centers of their brains, nevertheless, display a common design

So that's the only fact that can be deduced from the research. NOT that the brains of the animals evolved in a universal manner - that's just speculation. And on top of it, the article's heading is totally misleading, implying an evolutionary conclusion where non is to be had. When sticking to the facts, no place can be found for any evolutionary thinking in this case [ and most other cases as well ]. The [molecules to man] evolutionary thought usually simply pays homage to the god of evolution rather than contributes to the research. It is just ad-hoc additions to show that the researchers are in the evo camp and should therefore continue to be funded.

Nov 05, 2010
There is passing reference to galagos (bush babies) in the image caption, so it is just about acceptable to claim evidence for universality in primate brain structure in respect of the pinwheel patterns, since galagos are about as remote from humans as a primate can be, but that is all.
Except for the fact that we all share the same basal brain structure since we arise from a common primate ancestor.
It is just ad-hoc additions to show that the researchers are in the evo camp and should therefore continue to be funded.
Actually, the people who get the most funding, (and the fewest results) for their research are the anti-evolution dunderheads at the Templeton institute.

Nov 05, 2010
So once again kevinrts swoops in, deposits his drive-by carping, and swoops out, still without having shown any evidence of a deity or any reason why his brand of superstition should be even considered. The trouble is that his throwaway comments always boil down to "I don't believe it so it can't be true". Trouble is, A) by his comments kevinrts has shown repeatedly that he has no training or knowledge whatsoever in the area under discussion, which makes you wonder why he'd think his opinion has any value, and B) by his admitted belief in a magical sky fairy and a 6000 year old earth based on a set of fables that's demonstratably nothing more, kevin proves his intellectual deficit and logical incompetence. So why exactly would he think his posts are going to influence anyone to do anything except maybe run screaming away from The Church?

Nov 05, 2010
Donutz, you miss aspect C.

He's been repeatedly educated and given multiple references by which he could rectify his fantastic ignorance, yet he refuses to so much as read.

He is the king of fools.

Nov 06, 2010
So ad hominem attacks is the rule for evolutionists? kevinrtrs offered valid comments, and well articulated questions concerning the article. Can we dispense with name calling, and stick to science? That is, things which are testable, provable by known systems of measurement. The onus is on this site to present science, and has not done so. Either God created the universe, or it created itself. Both cannot be true. Once we realize it could not create itself, there is only one option left.

Nov 07, 2010
kevinrtrs offered valid comments, and well articulated questions concerning the article.
No he didn't, and neither have you. He made sweeping statements in order to satisfy his preconceived notions of a Christian creator God. Now you're playing defend the moron. Well this act is tired. You two are late for mass, run along to your brainwashing sessions.

Nov 07, 2010
So is frajo saying that we don't really exist? Or that this world was all something else, now it is what we have now? Can you prove that idea with science? Even if transformed, where did that come from? There has to be a beginning. Where did the energy come from to cause any transformation? Entropy drives the notion of there having been a starting point for the universe, since it is running downward.

Mr skeptic should be just as skeptical of evolution as he is creation. I am still sensing some ad hominem emotion in his text. At least frajo is offering replies related to the subject.

We all come to the table with philisophical vantage points. Your evolutionist scientists do that all the time. They can look at a fossil and the idea of creation doesn't even enter their mind.
They assume millions of years without a second thought. By the way, I am not Catholic, unfortunately, most of them follow the Pope, who believes your way. So your last comment there, makes no sense for me.

Nov 07, 2010
The idea of a Cyclic Universe, brings these thoughts to mind;
1) The process still had to have a beginning
2) Entropy demands that the energy would eventually run out, unless there is a new energy source.

But where would that new energy come from? Does the universe follow other laws of physics, where some perpetual motion device provides energy? But, where would that have come from? So this cyclical idea is full of logical obsticles, and is only a deterent from facing the truth, that in the beginning, God created the universe.

Science says that matter and energy cannot be created, only destroyed, so then the universe has to be closed, and finite. The amount of matter and energy that exists, what God created, is all there is. Thus, science agrees with creation.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more