At Wired Science’s Science News, Rachel Ehrenberg tells us, “Adult Brain Activity Stirs Before Birth” (February 16, 2011):
Nerve cells from developing brains as young as 20 weeks old fire in a pattern that persists into adulthood, researchers reported Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience. The research provides a glimpse into the behavior of extremely young brain cells and could help scientists understand what happens when brain development goes awry.Cells from the cerebral cortices of 20- to 21-week-old fetuses exhibit bursts of electrical activity interspersed with periods of quiet, researchers from the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington found. When the adult brain is sleeping, or under anesthesia, it also displays this busy-then-quiet firing pattern, suggesting it may be an intrinsic property of human brains.
As to why they do it,
Scientists still don’t understand what purpose the nerve cell activity serves so early in development. Perhaps it is a flexing of mental muscles to help keep the cells alive, says neuroscientist Srdjan Antic, who led the new study. Having a burst of activity now and again may signal other brain cells that “‘Hey I’m here, look at me, maintain a connection with me,’” Antic says. “During sleep neurons do exactly that.”
If so, the babies’ brains were looking in vain for a connection. Destined for someone’s arms, they ended up as medical waste with bits grabbed by ambitious researchers.
The comments are interesting, for example, from SRosewater,
Fetuses are not babies, they are collection of interconnected cells which are not meta-conscious and are only subject to involuntary movement. In essence, they are vegetables. … .
Which is in direct contradiction to the clear evidence manifested in the article and to all experience generally.