Of all the bird brain ideas…

UF students prep for research by learning to dissect pigeon brains

By Heather Brimmer

brimmerh@findlay.edu

You normally wouldn’t think of pigeons when you think about research, but it turns out that those birdbrains are pretty useful to the study of psychology. For Taylor Hudson, a University of Findlay freshman studying animal science/pre-vet, pigeon research is a stepping stone toward her future career.

Hudson began looking for research opportunities straight away in her freshman year, leading her to Dr. “Gino” Coppola. She said that Dr. G, as he is commonly known, warned that this work may be mind numbingly tedious, but Hudson was eager to seek out advantages for future veterinary school prospects.

“My friend was in ‘Intro to Psych’ with Dr. G this semester and he had some openings in his research on pigeon brains and spatial awareness and aging,” Hudson said.

Hudson works with Dr. G and two other students on this project. Earlier this month they headed north to Bowling Green to get to experience slicing the actual brains of pigeons and analyzing them.

“We are going to learn how to slice brains, specifically pigeon brains,” Hudson said. “To eventually put them on slides and dye them correctly in order to see different parts of the brain better.”

Hudson describes this year as a learning experience more than anything. She said that before the real data collection and research can begin, the group must learn the technical aspects of the projects, like what they’re doing in Bowling Green.

Once the students get a grasp on the skills they’ll need to know to conduct the research, they will be looking into some interesting topics. Hudson said the pigeon brains are actually used because they have similarities to human brains that aid researchers in discovering new things that can impact humanity.

“We’re looking at the striatum to see how in older pigeons the different structures can change… and to see if that [has an impact on] spatial awareness and how they navigate,” Hudson said. “Pigeons are used a lot in research to compare to humans, so we can see similarities in the aging process.”

This research will continue forward into subjects like dementia in pigeons and will be useful to understanding the aging process. Hudson claims she looks forward to continuing the journey and encourages everyone to get involved in different research opportunities on campus.

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