Study: Humpback whales have "human" brain cells 2006-11-28 09:28:01

A humpback whale was found dead on the beach of Lombardsijde near Nieuwpoort in Belgium on Mar 5 2006.

A humpback whale was found dead on the beach of Lombardsijde near Nieuwpoort in Belgium on Mar. 5 2006. (File Photo)
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    BEIJING, Nov. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- U.S. marine scientists say they've found humpback whales have a type of brain cell that is also seen in human brains.

    Researchers of the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York studied the brains of humpback whales and discovered a type of cell called a spindle neuron in the cortex, in areas comparable to where they are seen in humans and great apes.

    The function of spindle neurons, which is not well understood yet, may be involved in cognition -- learning, remembering and recognizing the world around oneself.

    The finding may help explain some of the behaviors seen in whales, such as intricate communication skills, the formation of alliances, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool usage, the researchers report in The Anatomical Record.

    Spindle neurons probably first appeared in the common ancestor of hominids, humans and great apes about 15 million years ago, the researchers said -- they are not seen in lesser apes or monkeys.

    In cetaceans they would have evolved earlier, possibly as early as 30 million years ago, the researchers said.

    The new study suggests certain cetaceans and hominids may have evolved side by side.


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Editor: Gao Ying
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