Scientists have successfully implanted geomagnetic compasses into the brains of blind rats and discovered that the animals quickly learned to use these signals to navigate their way around and basically have the power of a new sight-like sense.
The compasses provide a brand new and completely unfamiliar sense to the rats brains but they have adapted well and during the course of this study managed to navigate their way around a maze completely blind,relying only on this new GPS navigational system.
The study was undertaken by Yuji Ikegaya and Hiroaki Norimoto at the University of Tokyo, Japan. They used GPS chips similar to the ones found in mobile phones and implanted them into the brains of blind rats. A maze was presented to non-blind control subjects, the blind rats, and the rats with an implanted geomagnetic compass.
The results showed that rats with the implants were nearly as good as visually capable ones after a few days practice. Once they were used the the compasses they began to use them to establish where they were in relation to everything else, and move around the maze accordingly.
The aim of the study was not to restore vision but give rats an allocentric sense (where they are in relation to surroundings) and the results hold much promise for allowing blind people to navigate and live independently someday in the future.
The study has not only highlighted the genius use of technology, but also the remarkable flexibility of the mammalian brain. Rats can learn very fast, making them an excellent lab model and if they can, then humans will definitely be able to someday.