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Frogs ear canal may provide insights for understanding human hearing loss

A rare frog that lives in rushing streams and waterfalls in east-central China is able to make itself heard above the roar of flowing water by communicating ultrasonically, scientists reported March 16 in the journal Nature. Attributes that enable the frog to hear ultrasounds are made possible by the presence of an ear canal, which most other frogs don't have.

"Our research points out an elegant and novel solution to the problem of communication in high levels of background noise," said Peter Narins, UCLA professor of physiological science and ecology and evolutionary biology, and co-author of the study. "In addition, we now add amphibians to the small group of vertebrates (bats, whales and some rodents) that use ultrasound for communication. This study may provide a clue for understanding why humans have ear canals: to improve sensitivity to high-frequency sounds."

Amolops tormotus, also referred to as the concave-eared torrent frog, is the first non mammalian vertebrate found to be capable of producing and detecting ultrasounds for communication, much like dolphins, bats and some rodents. It does so, the researchers report, to make itself heard above the din of low-frequency sounds produced in its surroundings so that it can communicate territorial information to other males of its species. In addition to helping researchers understand how the ear evolved, the research may one day enable scientists to develop new strategies or technologies that help people to hear in environments where there is substantial background noise.

The research was federally funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

"The more we can learn about the extraordinary mechanisms that Amolops and other animals have developed to hear and communicate with one another, the more fully we can understand the hearing process in humans, and the more
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
28-Mar-2006


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