To distinguish between these two explanations, Uyanik et al. turned to weakly electric freshwater fish known as glass knifefish. These fish seek refuge within root systems, reed grass and among other objects in the water. They swim backwards and forwards to stay hidden despite constantly changing currents. Each fish shuttles back and forth by moving a long ribbon-like fin on the underside of its body. Uyanik et al. measured the movements of the ribbon fin under controlled conditions in the laboratory, and then used the data to create computer models of the brain and body of each fish. The models of each fishs brain and body were quite different.
To study how the brain interacts with the body, our faculty member Dr. İsmail Uyanık and his collaborators conducted experiments reminiscent of those described in the story of Frankenstein and transplanted the brain from each computer model into the body of different model fish. These "brain swaps" had almost no effect on the model's simulated swimming behavior. Instead, these "Frankenfish" used sensory feedback to compensate for any mismatch between their brain and body.
This suggests that, for some behaviors, an animal's brain does not need to be precisely tuned to the specific characteristics of its body. Instead, robust control of movement relies on many seemingly redundant systems that provide sensory feedback. This has implications for the field of robotics. It further suggests that when designing robots, engineers should prioritize enabling the robots to use sensory feedback to cope with unexpected events, a well-known idea in control engineering.
Full research article can be accessed via: https://elifesciences.org/articles/51219This article was adapted from the eLife digest: "Frankenfish" show the importance of feedback.