NOV 21, 2015 07:07 AM PST
Pigeons Take a Peck at Cancer, and They
WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
1 7 531

The humble pigeon, commonly referenced as a public nuisance or a pea-brained "rat with wings," may have earned its most illustrious label yet: a cancer detector!

It's true that the pigeon's brain is about one-thousandth the size of the human brain, but despite their pea-sized brains, pigeons turn out to be smarter than we think. Pigeons can be trained with visual cues to categorize objects, distinguish alphabet letters, and even recognize people in different clothing. Their vision may even be superior to ours, as they can see wavelengths of light that we can't.

Exploiting this visual acuity and ability to recall patterns, researchers tested whether pigeons can be trained to recognize and categorize normal vs. cancer images? The birds trained on 144 histology images at different magnifications and different diagnoses. Each time it pecked the correct answer box, the pigeon got a food reward. After training, the pigeons were reported to have a "remarkable" 85% accuracy rate, identifying correctly if the images were normal or malignant.

The 85% accuracy is quite impressive for an animal thought to be near brain-less, but rest assured, it's not nearly accurate enough for anyone to use pigeons in place of human experts. But this study shows that pigeons can be used in other areas of diagnostic testing, informing researchers on pattern recognition schemes. If nothing else, this study has hopefully elevated the status of the humble pigeons.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 21, 2018
Videos
MAY 21, 2018
The Different Ways Supernovae Can Occur
A supernova is an incredibly bright explosion that most people associate with the death of an old star when there isn't enough 'fuel' left for nuclear fusi
MAY 24, 2018
Videos
MAY 24, 2018
How deep is the ocean really?
Imagining the depth of the ocean is often, well, overwhelming. Considering that only 5 percent of the ocean floor has ever even been explored, there's much
MAY 28, 2018
Videos
MAY 28, 2018
When Cells Decide Their Fate
We start out as a clump of generic cells, but at some point, cells have to start taking on special features and functions. As cells choose their fate, they
JUN 04, 2018
Videos
JUN 04, 2018
Are Giant Pandas Overrated?
Are giant pandas overrated? Sure, they’re cute and bring a lot of tourism to zoos and wildlife parks, but they don’t do much for the environmen
JUN 11, 2018
Neuroscience
JUN 11, 2018
Doing Well at Eurovision Makes People Happier
Countries in Europe are famous for rooting on their soccer teams, but a recent study conducted at the Imperial College of London showed that the further a
JUN 11, 2018
Videos
JUN 11, 2018
This is What Happens to the Body After Death
Death can be a taboo topic that most people don’t like discussing, but there’s undoubtedly a scientific interest in what happens to the body af
Loading Comments...