Brainy birds

Pigeons can spot breast cancer at almost same level as humans

The pigeons’ training environment was equipped with a food pellet dispenser, and a touch-sensitive screen upon which the medical image (center) and choice buttons (blue and yellow rectangles) were presented. (PLOS)

They may be considered pesky by most, but don’t write pigeons off as completely useless anytime soon. Researchers at University of California at Davis conducted a study to see how well pigeons could identify cancerous cells in breast tissue samples and found that the accuracy with which the birds could identify cancerous cells was about the same as when humans looked at the same slides.

Researcher Richard Levenson, who teamed up with University of Iowa scholars for the project, rejects the assumption that pigeons are dumb. “They can actually tell the difference between different French art, modern artists like Picasso, Matisse,” he said. The birds in Leveson’s study were shown different slides “then asked with some encouragement, is this a cancer image or is this or a normal image.” The “encouragement,” of course, was food – if it guessed correctly with a tap of the beak, the pigeon received a treat. Eventually, they were able to detect what cancerous cells looked like.

Read the full story at CBS Sacramento.

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