Neuroscience

Showcase

This part of the Neuroscience website is a mix of material that will hopefully entertain as well as inform.

Quick thinking: New book explains the brain in 30-second chunks
30-Second BrainSussex brain experts have put their heads together to explain 50 of the most mind-blowing ideas in neuroscience, each in less than half a minute, for a new book (to be published on 6 March).

Brain store: Many parts of the brain take on specialist memory functions, according to content (such as knowledge versus past events) or process (such as recollection versus familiarity).

Challenging ideas about whether brain training can really improve your IQ, or if reason and emotion are opposites, 30 Second-Brain (Icon Books), edited by University of Sussex neuroscientist and Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Conscious Science Professor Anil Seth, is aimed at anyone and everyone who is interested in how the brain works, what happens when it goes wrong, and how it helps define who we are.

Sussex contributors include, Professor Jamie Ward, whose research is largely devoted to  our understanding of unusual perceptual experiences, such as synaesthesia, in which one sensation (e.g. taste) may trigger another (e.g. the association of a colour with that taste); Professor Michael O’Shea, who writes about the structure of the brain and how our 90 billion neurons (brain cells) chatter among themselves to conjure up our self-awareness; and Dr Daniel Bor, who puts into simple terms how we now know that different areas of the brain are specialised for different functions, such as memory.

Professor Seth, who together with his colleague Dr Ryota Kanai reveals the latest knowledge on consciousness, says the collection is not at all exhaustive and its main purpose is to whet readers appetites rather than be a whole '”brain banquet”.

“Together with my co-authors we went through several stages of winnowing down a long list of topics. In the end, I believe we’ve come up with a selection that takes us from the basic building blocks of the brain all the way to how the cognition, perception, and even how understanding the brain can help us think about our role in society.

“The content was also shaped to take advantage of the particular expertise of the authors; for instance I was keen to include a whole section on 'consciousness', my own main research topic!” 

He adds: “I strongly believe that even complex ideas can be explained simply, if one chooses the right aspects to explain. Of course each '30-second' summary could be the basis of an entire book, but that's just the point.

“The ideas are presented in a way accessible to anyone, from teenagers to pensioners, without any particular background - just some desire to understand.  But because it’s completely up-to-date and written by experts, even those already in the field will find there are new and compelling ways to explain complex phenomena.”

Brighton baby cuttlefish could change tanks

Cuttlefish"Cuttlefish, which are part of the same ecological family as squids and octopus, can change their skin patterns to camouflage themselves in their surroundings.

The revelation has caught the attention of defence bosses who are |keen to adapt their camouflage ability for use on tanks and other war vehicles.

University of Sussex experts will now carry out a series of studies on the sea creatures – with those in Whitehall watching on closely.

Neuroscientist, Professor Daniel Osorio, will lead the research.

He said: “If the process can be simulated by computers it’s not unfeasible that one day computer-linked cameras mounted on military vehicles |could feed continuous data to colour-shifting receptors on the vehicles’ skin.”

Research carried out by his team has already shown cuttlefish can accurately mimic different shades of light and dark while resting on a variety of surfaces."

Further coverage of this story: The Argus and University news. For more information on Professor Osorio's research please refer to his lab site.

New book on learning and memory edited by Professor Paul Benjamin, Sussex Neuroscience

Paul's book coverInvertebrate Learning and Memory. Handbook of Behavioral Neuroscience, Volume 22 (2013). Edited by Randolf Menzel and Paul R. Benjamin. Academic press/Elsevier ISBN 9780124158238.

Content.... Invertebrate Learning and Memory provides for the first time a comprehensive overview of studies on all aspects of learning and memory in invertebrate model systems. Forty-two chapters, written by internationally-recognized experts, are grouped into three sections: concepts, experimental approaches and specific case studies. Nearly 200 comprehensive figures accompany the text and digital versions are available for downloading from the companion website.

Importance.... Invertebrate animals provide major conceptual insights into the mechanisms underlying learning and memory that are of general interest to neuroscience. Worms, snails, slugs, cuttlefish, crabs and insects adapt to environmental changes quickly by learning. Multiple forms of learning and processes of memory formation reach beyond elementary associative events to include cognitive aspects of behavior.  The nervous systems and brains of invertebrates consist of hundreds or thousands of neurons many of which are characterized anatomically and physiologically at the individual cell level or as groups of small numbers of cells- ideal conditions for studying the molecular, cellular and network properties underlying  learning-related neural and synaptic plasticity.

Printed and eBook copies of this book are available in the University of Sussex Library.

Interview with Adrian Bell: Sussex Neuroscience PhD Student Prize winner 2014

Leon Lagnado and Adrian Bell"I came to Sussex following BSc and MSc degrees in Biology and Animal Behaviour from Newcastle University. My goal is to understand how individual neurons drive an animal’s actions – a reductionist, “behind the scenes” unravelling of behaviour.

In Jeremy Niven’s lab, we use the relative simplicity of invertebrate nervous systems to examine how and why brains have evolved, employing behavioural, cellular and computational techniques. The presentation I gave at Sussex Neuroscience Day described our discovery that locusts display “handedness”, that is, a preference for using the right or left forelimb to reach across a gap between platforms. This work was published in Current Biology in May: Bell AT & Niven JE, Individual-level, context-dependent handedness in the desert locust. This is the first time that handedness has been described in an insect, and opens avenues to look for evidence of this behavioural strategy in other organisms. Handedness is a good example of how behavioural observations can capture people’s imagination; what I want to do next is to learn some electrophysiology and examine the neurons involved in this behaviour and others.

The thing I enjoy most about my research is the freedom to observe and to develop ideas. Even during times when results aren’t forthcoming and you feel that you’re not getting anywhere, you are always learning what is and isn’t possible. This paper began with a simple observation, which developed into a hunch, and then kicked off a year of intensive research. The writing process was a valuable experience – 15 drafts of the manuscript felt like a lot, but other people tell me that this is actually quite a small number!

Presenting the work at Sussex Neuroscience Day was very rewarding – I enjoyed answering the audience’s questions, and have had many more conversations with faculty and students in the corridors since giving my talk. Winning the PhD Student Prize was great - I have put the money towards the very studious purpose of buying a new laptop."

Adrian Bell is in the second year of his PhD research and works in the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics (CCNR), supervised by Dr Jeremy Niven (School of Life Sciences) and Dr Andy Philippides (School of Informatics and Engineering).