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6 th February, 2018: Woodpeckers (Scientific name: Picoides
pubescens) are famous for drumming out of beats, possibly to attract a mate or
to establish a territory or in their search for food. The force attached to the
hammering away at a tree by woodpeckers is estimated to be at least 1,400 times
greater than that of the gravitational force constant (G) of earth. A
continuous impact of about 8G is found to eventually drive a human brain to
blackout and an impact of about 50G is sufficient to detach most of our organs.
Even small amounts of impact can lead to concussion, lingering pain in the neck
and back, and red dots on the skin from ruptured capillaries, known as
“G-measles” or “geasles”.
That the woodpecker’s lineage has been around on the planet earth for about 25 million years, suggest that they could not possibly have developed any serious brain issues due to their headbanging habit. In a research led by George Faran of Boston University School of Medicine and reported in the online journal Plos One , the researchers reports unique features of the brain tissues of woodpecker’s that protect them against heavy and repeated impacts.
Researchers identified tau proteins in the brain of woodpecker, which are not found in the brains of non-pecking birds. It has already been discovered that the tau proteins have an ability to stabilize neurons, arising from brain injuries or from neurodegenerative disease or normal aging process. In fact, buildup of tau proteins in humans can interfere with neuron function and is associated with the brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, leading to symptoms such as depression, memory loss and difficulties in cognition and motor abilities, and the disease tends to worsen with time.
“I wonder if what we are seeing in the woodpeckers may be a protective mechanism for the neurons,”; Cummings, the leading researcher has commented.
Researchers would like to pursue their investigations to figure out what kind of tau proteins are involved in the protective mechanism.