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Fish's use of electricity might shed light on human illnesses

Deep in the night in muddy African rivers, a fish uses electrical charges to sense the world around it and communicate with other members of its species. Signaling in electrical spurts that last only a few tenths of a thousandth of a second allows the fish to navigate without letting predators know it is there. Now, scientists have found that the evolutionary trick these fish use to make such brief discharges could provide new insights. In a new paper, National Science Foundation-funded scientists outline how some fish, commonly referred to as baby whales, have 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 eluding the highly sensitive electric detection systems of predatory catfish. What scientists have learned about these fish, the electrical signals they use and how they evolved may help humans in the future by shedding light on how those same electrical pathways operate in conditions such as epilepsy, where electrical pulses in the brain and muscles cause seizures. The finding also may have implications for discoveries about migraines and some heart conditions.

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