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Shining light on the 100-year mystery of birds sensing spring for offspring

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Professor Takashi Yoshimura and colleagues of the Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM) of Nagoya University have finally found the missing piece in how birds sense light by identifying a deep brain photoreceptor in Japanese quails, in which the receptor directly responds to light and controls seasonal breeding activity. Although it has been known for over 100 years that vertebrates apart from mammals detect light deep inside their brains, the true nature of the key photoreceptor has remained to be a mystery up until now. This study led by Professor Yoshimura has revealed that nerve cells existing deep inside the brains of quails, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)-contacting neurons, respond directly to light. His studies also showed that these neurons are involved in detecting the arrival of spring and thus regulates breeding activities in birds. The study published online on July 7, 2014 in Current Biology is expected to contribute to the improvement of production of animals along with the deepening of our understanding on the evolution of eyes and photoreceptors.

 

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