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Scientists connect rat and monkey brains to establish ‘organic computer’ network

Thu 9 Jul 2015

Scientists have today released a report on a research project looking at creating ‘brainets’ – wiring brains together to work in teams to solve problems.

The experiments, currently working with monkey and rat brains, seek to create brain-to-brain interfaces which the scientists hope could usher in ‘organic computers’ – built from several connected animal brains.

The team, led by neurobiologist Miguel Micolelis from Duke University Medical Center, are developing an interface which uses arrays of microscopic wires set in the brains of rats which enabled real-time data transfer between rodents across continents.

monkeys-brain

The test would see one set of rats learning how to solve movement and touch-based problems. Their brain activity was recorded as electrical pulses and transferred to the brains of another set of rates which helped the recipient rodent to solve the same problems more easily.

The latest research uses these brain-to-brain interfaces to build ‘brain networks’ or ‘brainets’ which can work in partnership to complete simple tasks.

One test involved a group of monkeys linked together in either a two-brain brainet (B2) or a three-brain brained (B3). The monkeys were each separated in different rooms but were able to communicate and share brain activity related to senses and movements.

A further experiment required the monkeys to control the movement of a virtual monkey arm displayed on a video screen. The researchers found that the monkeys connected across the B2 brainet were only able to control one of the arm’s movements, up and down, or left and right for example. Whereas the monkeys linked over a B3 network could each control two out of three movements, such as towards and away.

If the monkeys were able to work together to touch the virtual arm to a moving target they were rewarded with a small treat of juice. With time the scientists found that the monkeys were able to increasingly synchronise their actions and coordinate brain activities which led to improved execution of the tasks.

Nicolelis suggested that a clinical human application could link healthy people to paralysed patients to help them learn how to move their bodies again or help individuals with robotic limbs.

“One day this could also help stroke patients, epilepsy patients and patients with other neurological disorders. Also, this could be done non-invasively, instead of having to use implants like we did in our experiments with monkeys and rats,” he added.

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