For the first time researchers from Duke University have managed to connect the brains of two rats to transmit to each other information that allows them to perform simple tasks, such as finding out which lever press for a prize. In the experiment, a rat, something thirsty, learned to press a lever specific when a light was turned on to get a sip water. This type of training is common for laboratory rodents. The other was trained to learn to decode and convert electrical signals into behavior, something less common, but it is possible for some years.
The novelty of this work is that the activity taking place in the cerebral cortex of the first rat, named encoding, when you press a lever is collected electronically and transmitted over the Internet to the brain of the second, the decoder, located in Brazil. And interestingly, this rodent was able to interpret the electrical impulses to the cerebral cortex came through microelectrodes thickness of one-hundredth of a hair and reproduce the behavior of the first rat, which was not seen. That is, successfully pressed the right lever to get the reward guided solely by the information that came from the brain of rats of North Carolina, and she did not get any clue in the form of light.
This curious experiment has been carried out by the team of Miguel Nicolelis, Medical Center of Duke University, and published in Scientific Reports, Nature group. “Our previous studies with brain-machine interfaces allowed us to verify that the brain is easily adapted to receive signals that come from external devices and even learns to process an invisible infrared light generated by an artificial sensor. So we decided that if it could also assimilate signals from other brain “.
For Juan Lerma, president of the Spanish Society of Neuroscience and director of the Institute of Neuroscience in Alicante, the work now presented was a predictable step, but no one had done before: “Connecting to a machine brain is something already real, and brain activity are controlled robotic arms and wheelchairs. That means that the brain sends signals to the computer knows specific understand previous instructions that are given. In this paper, two brains connected by a computer that filters, sorts and makes the signals more intelligible to the other brain, ie converted into electrical impulses that the rat decoder understands. When a group of neurons in the rat activated sends a signal is transmitted to the other rat in the form of electrical pulses. ” Not that the thought is transmitted, clarified Lerma, but the brain of the second rat gets a series of electrical stimuli that result in certain behavior.
“Computer organic ‘
After the results, Nicolelis and his team are considering the next step. If two brains can communicate, why not connect more, they wonder. And are not fetched the idea of creating an “organic computer” brains composed located in different places on the planet.
Unlike the currently used computers, operated by algorithms, ie by instructions that allow to solve certain problems, organic instructions need not, only one signal representing a decision from a brain to be transmitted to rest . This could create a “network of brains” would work together, an idea that has been floating around Nicolelis some time and discussed in his book “Beyond Boundaries”. “And we can not predict which properties would emerge from such a network, consisting of animals linked by their brains,” says Nicolelis.
Nicolelis The question raised is based on the unique characteristics of the brain, which is more than the sum of its parts, ie, its component neurons, Lerma explains: “With a set of neurons emerges emerging activity does not follow from the characteristics of a single neuron, as the behavior of an entire brain. The question is whether we can connect multiple brains for an activity that goes beyond the brain of each separately, as the union of several neurons can achieve an emerging activity, as is the behavior that goes beyond the each neuron activity. “And neuroscience is that one plus one does not equal two. “So we study the human brain is so complex.”
Actually what passed between when the experiment rats, clarifies Lerma, are simple behaviors. “As a morse transmission. It remains to see if it could be transmitted between brain full information on visual experience, as the sight of a sunset, it would like to transmit a video “. A difficult question to answer because, explains the president of the Spanish Society of Neuroscience, twenty years ago we could not think of what just got Nicolelis. “What seems impossible today, in a few years it may not be.”
And put to imagine, is it possible to transmit memories of a person to another? The main problem is that we do not know how this encoded memory, reasoning Lerma. In this experiment, it has been easier to find a group of neurons in the motor cortex of the rat can transmit the pattern of behavior that another brain can interpret and perform.“Twenty years from now, who knows. But first you have to know how memory is encoded and where to pick up the impulses that would be transmitted. It is certainly difficult. “
However, Nicolelis believes his work opens the door to study the social brain, recording the brain of rats when they interact with others and see what changes occur. Their work could also be used to make more precise control of neuroprosthesis in persons have suffered some paralysis.