Tasting the light

This one is old, but since I just wrote one post on neuroplasticity, I thought I’d write another.

Back in 2009, scientists made a special digital camera for the blind. This camera sent its picture to a small array of electrodes. These electrodes were on a small “lollipop” that the blind person put in his/her mouth. The small electric signals were picked up by the tongue. They said it felt like pop-rocks, or champagne bubbles.

It took only about 15 minutes for the blind user’s brain to start interpreting the input as vision.

Seiple works with four patients who train with the BrainPort once a week and notes that his patients have learned how to quickly find doorways and elevator buttons, read letters and numbers, and pick out cups and forks at the dinner table without having to fumble around. “At first, I was amazed at what the device could do,” he said. “One guy started to cry when he saw his first letter.”

While the sensor can only work in black and white, and is fairly low resolution, it is amazing that the brain can rewire itself so quickly to take input from the tongue and interpret it as vision.

If I only had a brain

Could you live with half a brain? Some people have. The cerebellum is a small part of the brain by volume, but contains about half of the brain’s neurons. Some people have managed to live their entire lives without a cerebellum. Since the cerebellum handles lots of fine motor control, balance, and more, these people have had trouble walking properly, had slurred speech, trouble with coordination, and more.

But recently, a Chinese woman was found to have lived without a cerebellum. She first stood at 4 years old, and couldn’t walk unaided until she was 7. Her symptoms are not as severe. It seems that her brain grew so that many of the functions of the cerebellum were controlled by other parts of the brain.