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October 30, 2017

Batlab studies echolocation to learn how animals "see" with sound

Bat echolocation reveals more on how mammals use sensory information to thrive

Neuroscientist Cindy Moss is investigating how animals use sensory information to guide their behavior. Her team at Johns Hopkins University's "Batlab" is currently focused on bat echolocation -- high frequency sonar calls a bat uses to determine the location of objects in its environment. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the group aims to better understand how these highly-specialized creatures perceive and navigate their world, and in turn, learn more about how humans do it.

Moss says what's great about studying bat brains is the animal essentially broadcasts its thought processes as it goes about its natural behaviors, such as hunting for its next meal.

"Processing of the sound information once it returns to the bat's ears is comparable to information that another animal may get directly from the environment, for example, light that is processed through the visual system," explains Moss. "One of the very lofty goals in neuroscience is to understand brain function. What does that mean? It means activity of the brain in the context of real world behaviors. The bat, as an active sensing animal that produces the sounds that guide its behavior, provides us with a window to information processing."

While humans and bats engage the world in different ways, both are mammals, and thus share a lot in common. Moss' and her team's discoveries will not only help reveal new information unique to bats, but also characteristics of the nervous system of all mammals -- including humans.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF grant #1460149, Adaptive perceptual-motor feedback for the analysis of complex scenes. It was funded through the Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS) program.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.