Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are uncovering clues on how the brain and nervous system functions—from an unlikely source. NICHD neuroscientist Mark A. Stopfer, Ph.D., studies locusts and other insects to gain insights into the workings of the human nervous system. Dr. Stopfer is an investigator in the NICHD’s Unit on Sensory Coding and Neural Ensembles.
Although locusts are very different from human beings, their nervous systems, still, operate very much like our own. Like rats, mice, zebrafish, frogs, fruit flies, and even nematode worms, locusts are model organisms—organisms that serve as stand ins for human beings, in many kinds of experiments. Information from such studies can often provide insight into many human disorders and conditions. Compared to human brains, locust brains have relatively few nerve cells. So it’s easier for scientist to understand what each neuron is contributing to the processing of information.
“The basic science that we do here at the NIH will help in tackling human diseases, major human diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease,” said Constantine A. Stratakis, M.D., Scientific Director of the NICHD Division of Intramural Research. “By trying to uncover the fundamental truth of how everything works, you try to uncover how the human body works.”