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News briefs

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One-handed people point way to new brain theory

In people born with one hand, the brain region that would normally light up with that missing hand’s activity lights up instead with the activity of other body parts — including the arm, foot, and mouth — that fill in for the hand’s lost function, according to an international study published in Current Biology. Scientists from Israel and the UK say that the discovery could change fundamental understanding of how the brain is organised. The researchers studied 17 people who lacked a hand from birth along with 24 matched, two-handed controls. A video of each participant was recorded while they completed five everyday tasks, such as wrapping a present or handling money, to see how they went about it. Participants were also asked to move various parts of their bodies while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging. “We found that the traditional hand area gets used up by a multitude of body parts in congenital one-handers,” said researcher Tamar Makin, from University College London. “Interestingly, these body parts that get to benefit from increased representation in the freed-up brain territory are those used by the one-handers in daily life to substitute for their missing-hand function — say when having to open a bottle of water. In intact participants, all this is carried by the non-dominant…