When I was a child one of the first movies I can remember seeing was The Secret of Nimh. I loved this movie. I loved the book. I think the rat Justin was probably my first love, followed quickly by the Fox from Robin Hood. I was four. I had no real concept of the fact that they were animals, I was just in love with their gallant deeds :) There is a list of movies from my childhood that I loved so much I knew that when I had children I would have to share them. Beauty and Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Secret Garden, Fox and the Hound, but the Secret of Nimh was at the top. For those of you who did not obsess over movies from the 80's the story follows a mouse widow whose sick child makes it impossible for her to move homes when the farmer prepares to plow his field. In order to move the whole house she approaches the Rats of Nimh, a colony of incredibly smart rats who years before escaped from a lab. There is science, magic and love, a few scary parts but good eventually triumphs over evil. In one word it is perfection.
Yesterday while I was listening to NPR I heard a story that gave me a jolt. They were talking about Glial cells in the brain, the stuff that surrounds the neurons, the glop keeping our brains together. For years they were virtually ignored by the scientific community, passed over for the sexier work in neurons. Just within the last ten years scientist have begun to look at them and what they mean for our thought processes and our intelligence. It turns out that Glial cells are very important, that ours in particular are evolutionary different from the Glial cells you would find in other animals, that they also engage in chemical signalling, and that most amazingly of all if scientist inject human Glial cells into newborn mouse brains that those cells will grow up with those mice and that while those mice will act like all the other mice, they learn faster and are measurably smarter. "Oh my gosh," I yelled out in the car, "They're making the Rats of Nimh." This is amazing work that has huge implications for humans as well as major implications within the field of Bioethics. This is the stuff of the science fiction! If you are science geek like me or also had a love of the Rats of Nimh check out the full story here on NPR: To Make Mice Smarter, Add a Few Human Brain Cells.