A Unique Connection in Dogs’ Brains

“Beasts of science” is like a collection of stories. Beautiful stories that tell the living in all its freshness. But also in all its complexity. A parenthesis to marvel at the treasures of the world. For this new episode, once again, let’s go back to the one who has become our best friend: the dog.

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When it sniffs the droppings, it’s a little annoying. We have to admit it. But when it sniffles drugs, bombs, victims of disasters or even diseases, it is immediately much more interesting. And it’s been known for a long time, the dog has a smell exceptional.

When you look closer, it’s not very surprising. The mucosa who hides in the dog truffle has an area 50 times larger than that found in our nose. It consists of 200 million to 1 billion sensors smell. For comparison, ours, always of nose, does not count more than 5 million!

Side brain, same conclusion. The dog’s olfactory bulb — understand the region of the brain that processes messages sent by scent sensors — is up to 30 times larger than that of humans. With approximately 40 times more cells dedicated to odor analysis.

And all that is without mentioning the surprising organ that the veterinarians call vomeronasal organ. It is placed in the upper palate of the dog. Connected to the nose by two small channels. Thanks to it, the dog can analyze odors with incredible finesse. Even when the molecules fragrant are not legion.

Smell and sight connected to each other

The extraordinary power of the dog could already seem to have no more secrets for scientists. But that would be to forget their boundless curiosity. Because despite everything, they remained puzzled by a dog whosesmell appears a million times more efficient than ours. So they used an advanced neuroimaging technique to try to locate the paths taken by the white matter in the dog’s brain. The white matter is the one that transports information between brain areas. Millions of cables surrounded by a matter fat, the myelin.

Twenty dogs took part in the experiment. Dogs all pretty good sniffers, let’s face it. And what the researchers observed were, first of all, connections between the olfactory bulb — which is located behind the eyes of the dog — and the limbic system and the piriform lobe. This is where the brain processes memory and emotions. Connections similar to those found at home. These same connections that immerse us in our childhood with the simple smell of hot chocolate. No wonder, so far. But the researchers also discovered connections they didn’t expect at all. Because such connections have never been observed in any other animal species. Not even in humans. connections with the spinal cord and with the occipital lobe.

The occipital lobe is the region of the brain that processes… visual information! Yes, you read that right. In dogs, smell and sight are connected by the brain. Some scientists assumed so. But this time, it’s proven. This also explains how dogs that have become blind manage to orient themselves so well in their environment. Much better than us. Good news for humans who share the life of a dog. And one more sign that our best friend is not so stupid!

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On the program of this issue: a dive into the heart of 4 scientific themes that will mark 2022, from the Earth to the Moon:

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  • Will we soon be able to cure everything thanks to genes?
  • How to feed the world without destroying it?
  • Can artificial intelligence become truly intelligent?

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