Eurek-baa: Scientists find sheep can recognize human faces

LONDON (Reuters) - Sheep have been trained to recognize the faces of celebrities, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, by University of Cambridge scientists who hope it may help with understanding neurodegenerative diseases.

In a specially equipped pen, sheep were shown pictures of people on two computer screens, on one side would be an unknown person and on the other would be one of four celebrities.

The animal would receive a reward of food for choosing the photograph of the celebrity by breaking an infrared beam near the screen displaying it. If they chose the wrong photograph, a buzzer would sound and they would receive no reward.

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Dolly the sheep
The world's first clone of an adult animal, Dolly the sheep, bleats at photographers during a photocall at the Roslin Institue in Edinburgh January 4, 2002. [Dolly created by Wilmut and his team of genetic scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh in 1996 has arthritis in her left hind leg at the hip and the knee.]
Lyudmila Putina (R) the wife of Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks at the Dolly the Sheep exhibit during a short visit to Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland, June 25, 2003. Putin is visiting Scotland on the second day of his four-day state visit to the UK aimed at rebuilding damage caused by Russia's condemnation of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq and to appeal for more foreign investment in his country's ailing economy. REUTERS/Maurice McDonald/POOL MD
Children Emma Jane Boath (C) and Sean (R) look at Dolly the sheep - the world's first mammal cloned from an adult cell - as she goes on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, April 9 ,2003. Dolly, who born on July 5 1996 after her creation by the Roslin Institute research centre, died in February 2003 after the decision was taken to "euthanase" her when it was discovered she had a progressive lung disease. She has now been preserved for public display at the Museum.
Dolly the Sheep, the world's first cloned mammal, looks at photographers during a photocall at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, in this January 4, 2002 file photo. A team at the British institute that cloned Dolly the sheep have made a genetically engineered chicken that produces cancer drugs in its eggs. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Files (UNITED KINGDOM)
The world's first clone of an adult animal, Dolly the sheep, looks at photographers during a photocall at the Roslin Institue in Edinburgh January 4, 2002. Dolly created by Wilmut and his team of genetic scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh in 1996 has contracted arthritis in her left hind leg at the hip and the knee. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell PP03080019 JJM/PS
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JULY 05: Sophie Goggins from the National Museums Scotland views Dolly the Sheep during the opening of a major new development at the National Museum of Scotland on July 5, 2016 in Edinburgh,Scotland. The National Museum of Scotland today opened ten new galleries devoted to science, art and design, as part of �14.1m project which increased its exhibition space by almost half and putting many treasures from its collections on display for the first time. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute pictured, with his old friend, 'Dolly', the world s first cloned sheep, who died on February 14 this year, and has now been pickled and mounted on a straw-covered plinth and is on permanent display at Edinburgh s Royal Museum. * The birth of Dolly, on July 5, 1996, was heralded as a scientific landmark but triggered heated discussions about the ethics of cloning. She was named after country and western star Dolly Parton, because she was cloned from a ewe s mammary gland. 21/04/2004: Professor Wilmot told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme Wednesday April 21, 2004, that he is applying to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for the UK's first licence to clone human embryos. (Photo by Maurice McDonald - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Dolly the sheep makes an appearance for the media at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh after it was revealed that she is suffering from arthritis in her rear left leg. Professor Ian Wilmut, head of the team which cloned Dolly, said the discovery of Dolly's condition was a disappointment. *... but said it was further proof that more research was needed into cloning techniques. Professor Wilmut said Dolly, who is almost six years old, was being successfully treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and could live until she is 10. (Photo by Ben Curtis - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Dolly the sheep makes an appearance for the media at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh after it was revealed that she is suffering from arthritis in her rear left leg. Professor Ian Wilmut, head of the team which cloned Dolly, said the discovery of Dolly's condition was a disappointment, but said it was further proof that more research was needed into cloning techniques. Professor Wilmut said Dolly, who is almost six years old, was being successfully treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and could live until she is 10. lawepi (Photo by Ben Curtis - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
-, UNITED KINGDOM: This combo image shows Ian Wilmut from the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh (L), the scientist who created Dolly the sheep (R), the world's first cloned mammal. Britain 07 February 2005 granted Wilmut a licence to clone human embryos for medical research, triggering an outcry among opposition groups. Wilmut, dismissing fears that his work would lead to reproductive cloning, said the licence would allow him and his team to study the fatal motor neuron disease (MND). AFP PHOTO/FILES/ALESSANDRO ABBONIZIO/COLIN MCPHERSON (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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The sheep eventually managed to identify the familiar face eight times out of every 10.

The group of celebrities the sheep were trained to recognize included actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce and Obama.

"We've shown that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys," Professor Jenny Morton, who led the study, said in a statement.

In addition to being shown images of the celebrities facing forward, scientists also tested the animals' ability to recognize the faces in photographs taken from other angles.

The animals' success rate fell by around 15 percent when presented with the faces at a new angle, an amount researchers said was comparable to that seen when humans perform the task.

Scientists aim to use the sheep as models to understand disorders of the brain, such as Huntington's disease, that develop over a long time and affect cognitive abilities.

(Writing by Mark Hanrahan in London Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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