Email Print Share

"Elec-trick" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Fish known as "baby whales" possess a protein that enables them to communicate using electrical signals, and thus avoid predators. Turns out, this same protein exists in the hearts and muscles of humans, and a better understanding of its function could lead to improved treatments for heart conditions and diseases such as epilepsy.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Fished signals.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: underwater sounds) It's as if these fish can I.M. each other. Only instead of a tiny fish phone or other device, they're emitting electrical pulses to keep up with their BFFs -- best fish friends, and to navigate.

Certain fish -- one commonly referred to as a "Baby Whale" -- have developed a unique security system. It produces incredibly short pulses of electricity -- a few tenths of a thousandth of a second -- that lets them communicate and navigate while eluding the highly sensitive electric detection systems of a major predator: catfish.

It's an evolutionary trick that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Michigan State have found might shed light on human illnesses. Seems the "fish blips" rely on a protein also found in the hearts and muscles of humans. The team believes what they've learned from the origin and mechanics of this signaling ability could apply to the treatment of epilepsy, where electrical pulses in the brain and muscles cause seizures. Their findings could also give us insights on migraines and some heart conditions -- also related to electrical signals and their pathways.

Sounds like the electric fish are giving us a message too.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (66.6 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.