Michael Yartsev standing among light ribbons in yellow and blue.

Research Expertise and Interest

neuroscience, engineering

Research Description

Michael Yartsev is an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering.  His lab seeks to understand the neural basis of natural spatial, social and acoustic behaviors in mammals. They believe that to truly understand the brain, one needs to carefully select the appropriate model system for the scientific question at hand. Therefore, they utilize one of the most spatially and socially sophisticated mammals - the bat. In the spatial domain, they take advantage of the bat's natural ability to form new spatial memories and execute complex forms of navigation with extreme precision. In the social domain, they utilize the natural desire of bats to interact and communicate with one another in social groups. This allows them to obtain unique insights into the neurobiology of social memory and communication as the underpinnings of group social behavior. To facilitate their research they pioneered a wide range of neural technologies in freely behaving and flying bats for monitoring and manipulating neural activity (e.g., wireless electrophysiology and wireless calcium imaging in individualspairs or groups). Together, by taking a neuroethological approach they aim to uncover core principles of brain function that subserve complex natural behaviors in the mammalian brain

In the News

Bat Study Reveals Secrets of the Social Brain

Whether chatting with friends at a dinner party or managing a high-stakes meeting at work, communicating with others in a group requires a complex set of mental tasks. Our brains must track who is speaking and what is being said, as well as what our relationship to that person may be — because, after all, we probably give the opinion of our best friend more weight than that of a complete stranger. A study published today in the journal Science provides the first glimpse into how the brains of social mammals process these types of complex group interactions.

Reinventing the Wheel

Fruit bats aren’t the first words that comes to mind when you think of driverless cars.  But in their nightly forays for fruit and nectar, they routinely solve many of the engineering challenges that have stalled efforts to develop safe, reliable and efficient autonomous vehicles. Michael Yartsev describes the neurobiological principles his lab has uncovered and how the insights may provide a roadmap to the future.

A peek inside a flying bat’s brain uncovers clues to mammalian navigation

When driving up to a busy intersection, you probably pay more attention to where you will be in the near future than where you are at that moment. After all, knowing when you will arrive at the intersection — and whether you need to stop or slow down to avoid a collision with a passing car, pedestrian or cyclist — is usually much more important than knowing your current location. This ability to focus on where we will be in the near future — rather than where we are in the present — may be a key characteristic of the mammalian brain’s built-in navigation system, suggests a new study appearing online Thursday, July 8, in the journal Science.

Bats’ brains sync when they socialize

The phrase “we’re on the same wavelength” may be more than just a friendly saying: A new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers shows that bats’ brain activity is literally in sync when bats engage in social behaviors like grooming, fighting or sniffing each other.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
July 8, 2021
Tatyana Woodall
More than a thousand species use echolocation, but after billions of years of evolution, bats' brains are especially well optimized for navigation. A new paper released today in Science suggests that as bats fly, special neurons known as place cells—located in their hippocampus, a part of the brain that controls memory—helps them process key navigational information about their position not only in the moment but in the past and future as well. Using a combination of wireless neural data loggers and a motion-tracking system made of 16 cameras, Nicholas Dotson, a project scientist at the Salk Institute and the lead author of the study and his coauthor Michael Yartsev, a professor of neurobiology and engineering at UC Berkeley, observed six Egyptian fruit bats in two experiments meant to record bursts of neural activity. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News.
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