Scientists Find GPS Neurons in Pigeons

Study helps explain birds' ability to navigate


Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine may have identified how pigeons navigate after discovering a group of brain cells that are sensitive to the direction and strength of magnetic fields. On Thursday, researchers Le-Qing Wu and David Dickman published a study in the journal Science showing that the birds’ orientation determined which neurons were activated, giving the pigeons virtual compasses inside their brains. The species’ ability to navigate thousands of miles, even in poor weather, has long baffeled scientists. “It’s a stunning piece of work,” said David Keays of Vienna’s Institute of Molecular Pathology. The authors are still unsure how the birds are able to sense the magnetic field, but next plan to study the inner ear.

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