[ti:Scientists Trained Rats to Drive Cars. What Did They Learn?]
[00:00.04]Mice and rats have long been used in medical research because of their biological similarities to humans.
[00:10.72]The tiny animals have already shown an ability to recognize objects,
[00:16.85]push buttons and find their way through complex paths.
[00:23.12]Now, scientists have trained rats to drive small vehicles created for them.
[00:30.32]One of the main findings of the experiment was that the driving activity seemed to help the rats relax.
[00:40.76]Researchers at the University of Richmond in Virginia led the experiment.
[00:48.16]Their findings were published in Behavioural Brain Research.
[00:54.56]The team built tiny cars out of plastic and other materials.
[01:00.25]The vehicles had an opening at one end where electrical wires were attached.
[01:07.24]By touching one of three different wires,
[01:10.66]the rat could steer the car in different directions – left, center and right.
[01:18.92]Sweet treats were placed inside the experiment containers
[01:23.59]in an attempt to get the rats to drive the vehicle to get to the food.
[01:30.40]Researchers trained 17 rats over several months to drive around the containers.
[01:38.60]The animals proved that they could be trained to drive forward
[01:43.32]as well as in other directions to get to the treats.
[01:49.00]Kelly Lambert of the University of Richmond helped lead the experiment.
[01:55.44]She told the French news agency AFP the research suggests
[02:01.11]that rat brains may be more complex and flexible than once thought.
[02:08.36]Lambert said she had long been interested in neuroplasticity,
[02:14.16]or the way the brain changes to react to different experiences and difficulties.
[02:22.68]She found that rats kept in what she calls "enriched environments"
[02:28.44]performed far better than those in labs.
[02:33.16]While she expected that result, Lambert told AFP
[02:37.93]"it was actually quite shocking to me that they were so much better."
[02:44.80]The researchers examined levels of two hormones in the rats
[02:49.72]– one that causes stress and another that counters it.
[02:55.40]All rats that took part in the training had higher levels of the hormone that reduces stress.
[03:03.28]The research suggests the increased relaxation levels
[03:07.72]could be linked to the enjoyment of successfully completing a new skill.
[03:14.68]The team also found that the rats that drove themselves
[03:18.72]showed higher levels of the stress-fighting hormone
[03:22.64]than those that simply rode in small cars controlled by humans.
[03:29.56]Lambert said the most exciting result of the experiment for her
[03:34.49]was about the possible effect on humans.
[03:39.20]The research may open new areas of non-drug treatments for people
[03:44.62]suffering from mental health conditions.
[03:49.20]"There's no cure for schizophrenia or depression and we need to catch up," she said.
[03:56.84]"And I think we need to look at different animal models and different types of tasks
[04:03.51]and really respect that behavior can change our neurochemistry."
[04:10.80]Speaking to the British-based magazine New Scientist,
[04:14.92]Lambert said her team is planning to continue experiments
[04:19.42]to learn more about how the rats learned to drive.
[04:24.96]The new research will also examine why some activities appear to reduce stress,
[04:31.30]and which areas of the brain are involved in the process.
[04:36.96]As an example, Lambert said new driving tests could be created
[04:42.43]to test the effects of Parkinson's disease on motor skills and awareness of space.
[04:50.36]"If we use more realistic and challenging models,
[04:54.44]it may provide more meaningful data," she told New Scientist.
[05:00.84]I'm Bryan Lynn. 更多聽力請訪問51VOA.COM