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Comparative Neurobiology

Stripping away the myths of animal behaviour by studying how their brains are wired is all in a day's work for Prof. Paul Manger, Reader in the School of Anatomical Sciences. He specialises in the evolution of the brain by examining the brains of different mammals to answer the question: "As brains change in size, what changes and what stays the same?"

Understanding basic processes in the brains of different animals will lead to a greater understanding of how the human brain evolved. Africa is well placed for this type of research because of the rich diversity of animal species on the continent. South Africa alone has 85 species of rodent, allowing research on brains ranging in size from 100 milligrams to 35 grams to ascertain what changes occur as brain size increases.

"We mostly find that brains stay the same. This sounds like an anti-climax but it is important because by finding that animal brains are similar to humans, we can start to select appropriate animal models to study human illnesses," he says. "Knowing what animal models cannot be applied to humans in specific situations is equally important."