Okay so, it turns out that when astronauts are in space for long periods of time (over 2-weeks) their brains go through noticeable structural changes. That’s pretty interesting and proof of the incredible plasticity and ability of the human brain. Now then, we now know what sorts of changes occur from research and it is interesting that the images of dolphin brains have also been imaged.
What do we know about the similarities of a human brain in space in a low-gravity environment as it learns to operate in a three dimensional realm of movement and the brain of a dolphin which has structurally evolved to operate in a similar low-gravity environment with movement in 3-Dimensions (cite: 1).
Why do I dare to compare or ask this question?
Well, there was an interesting article on the New Atlas website posted on January 31, 2017 titled; “Astronauts’ brains change shape as they learn to move in space,” by Michael Irving, which noted:
“The study found space travel changes volume of gray matter in different parts of the brain, perhaps the result of shifting fluids due to a lack of gravity, and the brain working overtime to relearn the basics of movement in a strange new environment. Humans evolved to thrive in conditions here on Earth, so it’s not surprising that once taken beyond our home turf, we’re subjected to a range of health issues. Without gravity constantly pushing down on the body, bones and muscles loses mass over time, an issue that astronauts on the ISS mitigate through exercise.”
In this study the scanned (fMRI) of over two-dozen astronauts and all of them had their brain’s gray matter change + or – in different parts, the longer in space the more the change. Now then, according to Google Search of human brain; “Overall, gray matter occupies 40 percent of the cerebrum,” and it turns out when you look at a Dolphin brain although structurally different it contains a lot of gray matter (Cite: 2, 3, 4). And, and really it is said that it’s our ‘gray matter’ that makes us human, separates us from Dolphins (cite: 5).
The human brain has much more by percentage, even though it is smaller in size than a dolphin brain – maybe dolphin brains don’t need as much? Maybe a dolphin brain is a superior design for long-term space flight? Maybe some DNA research might lead us to clues? Maybe we can use this information to help us biologically engineer a better brain to make it safer for humans in long-term space environments, without losing cognitive abilities and without health risks.
Okay so, my hunch is that if we study the dolphin brain we can gain insights into why the human brain changes the amounts of gray matter in different parts of the brain when in a low-gravity environment and as astronauts learn to motivate in a fully available 3-D environment. Of course, right now we don’t know much, but we know enough to start considering such things and launch new research to take advantage of what we learn. Since we don’t know exactly why this happens but only have theories, we need to get to the bottom of it all. Perhaps, those who’ve studied Dolphin brains could open a dialogue with NASA scientists who’ve studied the brains of returning astronauts. Think on this.
Cites and Recommended Reading:
(1) Book; “Dolphins ” Undersea Discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau series, Double Day Publishers, Berlin, Germany, 1974, 304 pages, ISBN: 0-385-00015-4.
(2) Research Paper: “A universal scaling law between gray matter and white matter of cerebral cortex,” by Kechen Zhang and Terrence J. Sejnowski.
(3) Research Paper published in Journal of Brain, Behavior and Evolution; “Morphology and Evolutionary Biology of the Dolphin Brain – MR Imaging and Conventional Histology,” by H.H.A. Oelschlager, M. Haas-Rioth, Fung, S.H. Ridgway, and M. Knauth, DOI: 10.1159/000110495.
(4) Research Paper; Marino, L., Murphy, T. L., Gozal, L., & Johnson, J. I. (2001). Magnetic resonance imaging and three-dimensional reconstructions of the brain of a fetal common dolphin, Delphinus delphis. Anatomy and embryology, 203(5), 393-402.
(5) Book: “In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier,” by Thomas I. White, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, Apr 15, 2008, 248 pages, ISBN: 978-047076-652-1.