Scientists Map Thoughts Flowing in a Fish’s Brain

February 2, 2013, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

The brain is a tricky customer. Even after so many years of advancement in technology and research, we still haven’t completely unfurled the mysteries of the brain, be it human or animal.

So any work on discovering any aspect of a brain function is akin to groundbreaking. And we have one such kind of study here related to fish brains.

Scientists have found a way to display the neural activity that showcases how the thoughts of a fish swirl while hunting a prey. The brilliant minds of Japan’s National Institute of Genetics went about this research and Koichi Kawakami of the institute said that the important aspect of their research is that they can make the invisible visible.


“Our work is the first to show brain activities in real time in an intact animal during that animal’s natural behavior,” said Kawakami. A larval zebrafish was used by the team for the study, primarily because they are cheap, easy to breed and during the early stages of their life, they are transparent, allowing the scientists to watch their development closely.

The team used a very sensitive fluorescent probe to show the thought processes of the fish. They inserted the probe via a genetic method, and placed them on the neurons of interest.

The zebrafish was laid out in a gel platform, immobilized, and ready to scan. They placed some paramecium, the natural diet of the fish, hoping to tempt it.

As the food was moved about, the fish tracked the movement of its prey, and the scientists were able to video the pulses of thought flowing through the fish’s brain. “In the future, we can interpret an animal’s behavior, including learning and memory, fear, joy, or anger, based on the activity of particular combinations of neurons,” Kawakami said.

According to the scientist, their research could pave the way for easier development of new psychiatric medications.

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