Autistic Sulcal Pits, Biological Psychology, Neoproterozoic Fossils, & Squid Axons

Exploring DNA

Now that I’m re-uniting with my early 20s special interest in brains, my research feels (humorously) scatterbrain. Despite this messiness, I encountered several ideas that I wanted to crystallize for later use. So even though I’m not quite sure how to interconnect everything yet, (evident in this blog post’s title,) I’ll do my best to weave these ideas together into the same digital space. Just be forewarned: this blog post is more exploratory than serendipitous.

Idea #1: Sulcal Pits

I read about sulcal pits, which are the deep-dives happening in the grooves of your brain.

According to NeuroImage’s 185th volume, published last year, genetics determine how these sulcal pits form.

In 2016, scientists observed odd patterns in brain folds that can be observed in MRIs, linking sulcal pits to autism.

At the risk of oversimplification, these two discoveries offer compelling evidence for the relationship between genetics and autism (if that was ever under question before). I’d like to test this evidence by proving it false; so I’m excited to study more about human biology and genetics, until I either feel this knowledge is solid, or I find a reason to discard it for the sake of continuing the search…

“The search for what?” my brain asks.

“The search for understanding you, of course,” my gut replies.

“Oh,” my brain sighs. “We’re still doing that?”

“We gave up for awhile,” my gut concedes. “We tried to get to it through the backdoor of story instead.”

“That didn’t work?” my brain asks.

My gut shrugs. “We know how to anthropomorphize body parts into flash fictions. That could be useful…?”

(Hey, now!—I’m certain my writing skills have more uses than that. But my gut can be sassy.)

Idea #2: Re-learning Brains

I found an app to look at a 3D brain so I could visualize the different pieces at play here. I’d recommend the app if you benefit from color-coded visuals. Also, it’s just fun to memorize the names of the different sections of the brain, isn’t it? We’re all a little curious about what’s inside our craniums.

When I talk about my amygdalae, I want to imagine them. When I try to explain how executive dysfunction impacts autistic people, I want to gesture to the right part of my head.

Amygdalae as shown in the 3D Brain app.

I took a biological psychology lower-division course in my first years in community college. Unfortunately, that was the semester where I also took four W’s. I was having personal problems that I couldn’t overcome while maintaining school. When I returned to community college the following semester, I didn’t re-enroll in biological psychology, and I can’t remember why!—although I vaguely recall that I was pissed I wanted to write stories, yet I was receiving external pressure to study psychology; so there’s that—but anyway, I’m taking biological psychology again, ten years later, in the Summer 2019 session, at the community college that’s bicycling distance from our home.

That should also give me a stronger foundation for my autism research.

If nothing else, it’ll familiarize me with more of the words for neuroscience discourse.

Idea #3: 570-million-year-old Fossil

The tianzhushania is a giant bacteria or an embryo of an early-stage animal.

I know I know, that’s a staggering place to see-saw between two possibilities; but what I found more curious wasn’t whose ancestor this fossil belonged to…

3D render of tianzhushania, a 570mil-yro fossil

Rather, I was intrigued by how the fossil was preserved with such detail, we can see neuron-like sub-cellular features. Twisting the 3D model of the cellular structure, I thought I could orient it to look roughly like a brain—if the brain were composed a frontal cortex, two limbic bulbs, and a parietal lobe.

I’m likely seeing connections that aren’t there. My pattern recognition is my greatest asset and my worst enemy.

I like the idea of tianzhushania belonging to protists.

More Ideas for Later

Here are some of the other ideas I researched this morning, in case I find more parallels down the line (or you can let me know if you see any themes):

  • If the broca’s area is impacted by autism, then why are so many autistic people writers?—is the impact not negative, but merely different? Twitter’s abundant with those of us who have overcome these supposed (and neurotypically defined) “language barriers” through writing. We can practice ourselves into mastery of wordsmithing and wordplay. So rather than saying we have a language processing disorder, maybe we should consider a genetic shift within the human genome (i.e., a favorable mutation), maybe a rapid evolution, attempting to change our language processing skills into something different, which in turn, perhaps, is our natural response to the extreme change brought by technological civilization. We are, after all, not immune to the effects of a single-species-dominated planet—even if that species is us—and I, for one, would applaud our brains for trying to adapt to the environments we’ve made for ourselves, if that’s what’s happening…but I’ve made many leaps of logic and assumptions here. More research is needed. A lifetime of research might be needed to grapple with this topic.
  • Of course, many autistic people will struggle with language…I don’t want to imply that isn’t the case. A lack of coordination within sentences can be frustrating—if the autistic person is crafting sentences at all; sometimes, that “85% of communication is nonverbal” is illustrated quite poignantly through autism—and that language-processing frustration would be compounded by another autistic person invalidating a genuine experience. So it’s important to continuously re-touch home base: “Each autistic person is different, just as each neurotypical brain is different.” Each brain adapts differently; neuroplasticizes itself uniquely. We only bother with the “autism” label because we’ve defined a spectrum of similarity, a unifying thread, that is in desperate need of research. So when I write about autistic writers, it isn’t to refute that complex narrative of the spectrum; rather, it’s a narrow topic, and I think about it because (a) I’m an autistic writer, and (b) I find it interesting that some other autistic people are writers. This suggests the spectrum’s interplay with language is much deeper, and much more intriguing, then the simple write-off: “Yeah, autistic people are bad at word stuff.”
  • Lack of connectivity in one area of the brain may explain hyperconnectivity in the other. A hundred billion neurons may form more synaptic connections than stars in the universe, but even supercomputers have identifiable limits. Our bodies are not infinite machines—just wondrous machines. Again, I’d like to research this more.
  • Could music-based treatments work for autistic people because of a sensitivity to wavelength? Could all sensory sensitivity be attributed to this? (Here’s where I think studying physics might be more useful than studying psychology, even though psychology would be the traditional entryway to most of the subjects I’m exploring.)

On a final note, I’ve been obsessing over the exploding population of squid and octopuses. It’s related to my special interest in climate change. Originally, I was studying squid and octopuses because I heard they had a massive axon—the fatty tail that dangles off each neuron in your brain—but this book took me down several other alleyways I didn’t expect, like the relationship between mollusk populations and warming oceans (i.e., climate change). I highly recommend Wendy Williams’ Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid if the massive axon and/or cephalopod population intrigues you.

Featured image commissioned from artist ayasuarjaya.


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