Scientists: Baby Humans, Rats, Cats Learn to Walk Using Similar Neurons

Baby human beings and a number of other animals share the neural mechanism in the brain that allows them to walk, new research published in the journal Science has found. The development of human locomotion branches off from the other animals, which include cats, rats, and guinea fowl, as the animals mature, with larger-brained animals such as humans taking longer to learn to walk independently than smaller-brained animals like rats.

The "stepping instinct," where a newborn baby automatically lifts his or her feet when they are rested on a surface, was found by researchers to have its roots in a neural pathway that is also found in the animals studied. Researchers say that the discovery can help further the development of tools to rehabilitate people who are paralyzed or otherwise cannot walk.

"We have a common history ... a common ancestral network, which originated locomotion in the first animals, the first vertebrates," study co-author Francesco Lacquaniti, scientist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy, told "Mother nature did not discard what it had. It does not scrap hardware," he added. "Indeed, the adult locomotion of adults is unique. But it seems to derives from common ancestry, as for the other animals."

Image: Baby walking, via Shutterstock.

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