A new species of fish discovered in the Amazon by French botanist Avril La Blague can help adults acquire second language skills as easily as young children – and acquire other skills such as perfect pitch, previously considered innate.
The fish – named after its founder, “Poisson d’Avril” – contains high concentrations of Valproic acid, a key ingredient in drugs used to treat epilepsy. Research into the drug had been conducted independently by Takao Hensch, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, who discovered that it could be used to teach perfect pitch to adults.
"It’s a mood-stabilizing drug," Hensch explained, "but we found that it also restores the plasticity of the brain to a juvenile state."
Dr La Blague independently discovered the same phenomenon when she investigated claims about several indigenous Brazilian tribes with remarkable linguistic skills. She discovered more than a dozen nomadic tribes, each with their own native tongue, were fluent in all twelve of the other tribes’ languages, despite having only brief contact with them each year. Tribe members ate the fish as part of "magic" rituals, in which the gods were asked to bestow upon them the gift of many tongues. When La Blague had the fish analysed, several unusual nutritional properties were found, including Valproic acid.
The Poisson d’Avril is still being researched but La Blague has already won €2.3m government investment to set up breeding farms in France and the fish may be sold in Europe as early as next year.