Australian DJ and neuroscientist discovers that zebrafish go off to MC Hammer

Meet the coolest fish in school who are ready to party as soon as MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This starts playing.

Rebecca Poulsen, a.k.a. BeXta, is an Australian DJ studying neuroscience at the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute.

As a part of her sound experiments, Poulsen placed baby zebrafish inside a chamber, played them various noises whilst scanning their brains with a laser, and examined the results through a microscope.


The results have been published in the journal Current Biology and oh boy are they funky. One of the sounds that Poulsen serenaded the fish with was MC Hammer’s 1990 hip-hop track U Can’t Touch This and something about the tune made the teeny, tiny fish boogie – at least inside their brains.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the video over and over again to see if there are neurons that respond to the bass or the vocal. In my opinion, there’s something there,” Poulsen said. “You can see when the vocal goes ‘ohhh-oh’, specific neurons light up and you can see it pulses to the beat. To me it looks like neurons responding to different parts of the music.” 

MC Hammer himself stopped (Hammertime!) by Twitter to share a link to Poulsen’s research. “That’s awesome,” Poulsen told The Guardian.

Poulsen is researching how zebrafish brains respond to sound, as she thinks they could teach scientists something about autism. “Once we know how the zebrafish processes sound, we can then look at auditory processing in our zebrafish models that have altered genes that are strongly linked to autism.”

Between the club scene in Brisbane and the lab, Poulsen is certainly making waves.