Specialized Brain Cells Act Like a Compass | The Institute for Creation Research
Specialized Brain Cells Act Like a Compass

Most people don’t think about the mental process of recognizing locations. We just take it for granted.

Any sort of complicated manmade device, like a modern cell phone or car, constantly monitors its spatial position. But what about living creatures—do they have a similar design feature? Scientists recently identified a type of brain cell that acts like an internal compass that puts human engineered systems to shame.1

Think about the importance of being able to recognize and process your location during the day—not just being able to find the bathroom down the hall or the coffee machine, but also being able to get home or to the grocery store after work. As it turns out, people who have damage to a certain part of their brain called the retrosplenial cortex, which functions as the brain’s inner compass, become easily disoriented and can’t readily navigate. Despite the importance of this brain region for daily life and to avoid getting lost, the neurons (specialized brain cells) and their circuits remain poorly studied.

To figure out how this unique part of the brain works, scientists recorded electro-chemical signals from individual neurons in different parts of the mouse brain. By examining the various types of brain cells, they identified a unique neuron in the retrosplenial cortex. The specific signaling properties of this neuron were found to be ideally suited to encoding direction-related information over long durations of time acting much like a compass.

Omar Ahmed, the lead scientist for the study stated,

Regular neurons in the cortex are good at encoding directional information only when you are moving your head, but what happens when your head is still? You still need to know what direction you are facing so that you can use this information to plan your route.2

He went on to say, “You ideally need another kind of neuron—a neuron that can continuously encode your orientation over long durations even when your head is not moving.”

Many neurons in the brain slow down their signaling activity fairly quickly. In contrast, these newly characterized compass neurons are very persistent and fast. In other words, they are able to continue firing their signals at high rates for extended periods of time. Another unique feature of these neurons is their extreme sensitivity in that they need very little input to be activated. This combination of uniquely engineered traits makes these cells optimally suited to code and control continued directional properties so essential to humans and other creatures like the mice that were studied.

Shyam Sudhakar, another scientist on the project, further clarified the significance of the discovery when he stated, “It’s important for my brain to know when I change direction, but it’s not good if all my brain detects is change.”2 In other words, a compass always has to know which way north is in order to continuously function. That is exactly what these newly characterized rheobase neurons are able to provide. Thus, the lead author of the study Ahmed hypothesized, “This is probably why the vast majority of Alzheimer's patients suffer from spatial disorientation and get lost easily—because their retrosplenial cells are not working as they should.”

This new research is just one more example of a highly complex and divinely engineered system feature that provides overwhelming evidence for an Omnipotent Creator. Studies like this also show how creatures continuously track the environments around them using all-or-nothing mechanisms and systems that could not possibly have evolved bit-by-bit through chance random processes as claimed by evolutionists.3 This innate compass points directly to our mighty Creator God.

References
1. Brennan, E. K., S. Kumar, S. Izabela, J.-C. Tibin, T. Omar, J. Ahmed. 2020. Hyperexcitable Neurons Enable Precise and Persistent Information Encoding in the Superficial Retrosplenial Cortex. Cell Reports. 30: 1598-1612. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.12.093
2. University of Michigan. 2020. Unique neuron computes like a compass. ScienceDaily. Posted on sciencedaily.com on February 4, 2020, accessed February 11, 2020.
3. Guliuzza, R. J., and P. B. Gaskill. 2018. Continuous environmental tracking: An engineering framework to understand adaptation and diversification. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, ed. J. H. Whitmore. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Creation Science Fellowship, 158-184.

*Dr. Tomkins is Life Sciences Director at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his doctorate in genetics from Clemson University.
The Latest
NEWS
Human Genome 20th Anniversary—Junk DNA Hits the Trash
The first rough drafts of the human genome were reported in 2001 (one in the private sector and one in the public sector).1-2 Since then, after...

NEWS
Bacterial Proteins Use Quantum Mechanics
Researchers have found a dimmer switch inside a protein. It tunes the protein’s configuration to take advantage of quantum mechanics during photosynthesis....

NEWS
Dr. Bill Cooper, ICR’s Adjunct Professor, Now in Glory
Earlier last month on March the 9th, Dr. William R. Cooper, ICR’s Master Faculty (known to ICR-SOBA’s faculty as “Dr. Bill” since...

NEWS
Inside April 2021 Acts & Facts
How will ICR expand biblical creation education this year? How do fossilized fish and land creatures confirm Genesis history? Does recent research support...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Kids: Bees
You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation with ICR’s special Creation Kids learning...

ACTS & FACTS
Pleasure in Our Purpose
Eric Liddell was one of the most famous athletes of the 20th century and perhaps the greatest that Scotland ever produced. An international rugby player,...

APOLOGETICS
Beware Sinkholes and Other Failing Foundations
The sudden falling of some Christian schools can be compared to tiankengs, the geological term used for sinkholes that are at least 300 feet deep.1,2...

ACTS & FACTS
The Painted Desert: Fossils in Flooded Mud Flats
Brian Thomas, Ph.D., and Tim Clarey, Ph.D. The Painted Desert stretches across 120 miles of northern Arizona. Its sedimentary rocks show bright...

ACTS & FACTS
Does Recent Research Support Human Evolution?
In 1997, the Institute for Creation Research ran an Acts & Facts article on the lack of compelling evidence regarding our supposed evolution from...

ACTS & FACTS
Building a Perfectly Optimal Flying Machine
For thousands of years, people have dreamed of flying because they witnessed birds and knew it was possible. Inspired by a study of birds, the Wright...