The ability to discern pitch and to hear the difference between similar-sounding words relies on specialised cells within the inner ear, which can be damaged.
For the first time, scientists have discovered what controls the cells’ development and pattering.
They studied the development of these cells in chickens, which unlike humans, have the capacity to regrow sound-detecting cells after suffering hearing loss.
A study by the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders says that if scientists understand what causes chickens’ cells to redevelop they could one day replicate the process in humans to reverse hearing loss.
Jeffrey Corwin of the university said that if both a human and a hen were to be exposed to a sound loud enough to destroy the ability to hear a certain pitch, the outcomes would be very different.
‘We would lose the ability to hear that sound for the rest of our lives.
‘The bird also would lose the ability, but within 10 days, it would have its cells back – they would hook back up to the nerves and within a few weeks its hearing would be back and almost indistinguishable from before.’
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