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Science

Scientists Build Microscope Onto The Head Of A Rat 32

Posted by timothy
from the ran-out-of-other-things-to-do dept.
mindpixel writes: "Unisci is reporting: 'The ability to see individual neurons in detail in the brains of conscious, behaving animals seems like the stuff of science fiction. But in the current issue of Neuron, Professor Winfried Denk and colleagues report that they have done just that. In a stunning technical achievement, they have built a tiny, powerful microscope onto the head of a rat.'" This might be technically stunning, but I wonder how much the rat likes it.
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Scientists Build Microscope Onto The Head Of A Rat

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  • I think I see something, SQUEEK, darn stop moving.
  • I wonder what kind of use the data gathered from this experiment will have for computer scientists studying neural networks. By studying mechanisms of connection formation in the real thing, maybe we could improve the performance of computer neural networks. Of course, the opposite should hold as well, where we could better model the living brain in computers. Unfortunately, I would guess that the optical camera can't pick up on patterns of electrical activity, so we wouldn't gain insight into firing patterns as the network operates. IANA computer scientist, though; does anyone know how practical this would be?
    • I wonder what kind of use the data gathered from this experiment will have for computer scientists studying neural networks. By studying mechanisms of connection formation in the real thing, maybe we could improve the performance of computer neural networks. Of course, the opposite should hold as well, where we could better model the living brain in computers. Unfortunately, I would guess that the optical camera can't pick up on patterns of electrical activity, so we wouldn't gain insight into firing patterns as the network operates. IANA computer scientist, though; does anyone know how practical this would be?

      I don't know if they have some other method of determining the electrical activity not mentioned in the article, but it should certainly help in determining how the brain learns to recognize patterns. Does it actually grow new neural connections, or does it just change the behaviour of an existing connection?

      Presumably, they are watching an area of neurons whose function has been at least generally determines - the part of the cortex that recognizes parallel lines and similar geometric relationships perhaps - and can apply stimuli that would load or change the behaviour of that area.

      For that matter, maybe the brain starts out fully connected and the learning process doesn't grow new connections, just destroys the ones that it seem to provide the wrong answers? This might even explain some politicians.........

    • I probably don't speak for everyone in this case, but my experience with biology inspiring artifiical intelligence is as follows:

      1. Start out with something vaguely like something biological (a neural net)

      2. Talk about how you're going to use the biological model because evolution is powerful.

      3. Make changes to the model that don't follow the biological model because it's easier to get reasonable results quickly if you're not restrained by biological constraints.

      So, in short I thought the "biology inspires AI" idea was mostly smoke and mirrrors (at least in the classes I've taken). Biology did inspire the original idea, but biology got dropped after that.
  • by sigep_ohio (115364)
    this is a disgusting use of science. I honestly feel it furthers science relatively little to do this. personally i think the good doctor who put the microscope in the rats head should have put a microscope on his own ego-laden head. I don't want sound too preachy, but what right does the researchers involved have to do this to even the lowly rat.

    i am disgusted to be in the same genus as the people who worked on this project.
    • Re:Science gone awry (Score:2, Informative)

      by scanman857 (46863)
      > this is a disgusting use of science. I honestly feel it furthers science relatively little to do this.

      Don't get your panties in a knot. This research may eventually lead to such things as complete computer simulations of human brains. (or at least animal brains.) Besides, the rat probably doesn't feel all that much pain anyway. The brain has no sense of pain or even touch.
  • by zardor (452852)
    There is an interesting article here [sciencedaily.com] that describes recent work in analysing electrical patterns in the brains of people to determine what they are looking at. Success rates were very good, at least in being able to tell what type of object the subjects were looking at.
  • I am very well studied in this sort of thing, and simply put, anyone who still thinks that humankind can benefit from animal experimentation should read this site [curedisease.com] thoroughly, stick a crowbar up their ass and open up their mind. I recommend it as a site which discusses only the scientific standpoint, leaving the ethic aside (although the ethic should be enough of a reason to abolish vivisection).

    What will they learn from this? Better brain surgery techniques for rats. Not humans, rats.

    Do they have a right? Only if you think that "lesser" creatures only have as much right to life as it's usefulness to you. And if you think that way, then start rounding up handicapped people for the vivisection labs.

    • First off, handicapped people aren't "lesser" creatures. They're human, too, just unfortunate to have a disability. So, no, I don't think we should experiment on them.

      I read through part of the faq at curedisease.com, and, if they're telling the truth, then maybe there's something to that. I'd be surprised if we haven't made mistakes in the past. Last I checked, humans were doing all the science on this blue marble, and all humans are (gasp!) subject to making mistakes. Maybe we should be more careful in applying what we learn from animals to humans, but I doubt it would be in our best interest to stop research on animals entirely.

      And, for the record, I do think we should use animals as necessary and prudent for the advancement of medical science.
    • by dragons_flight (515217) on Saturday September 29, 2001 @05:35PM (#2368914) Homepage
      I read through the FAQ on the site you offered, and I would say there are two significant problems with it.

      1) All the examples deal with attempts to learn about and cure diseases in people. It neglects the fact that a good amount of research, such as the rat discussed, hopes to learn about a system given any environment because we've never studied it in any context. And, other times scientists really do want to learn about rats or rabbits or monkeys in question.

      2) It presumes that animals are in all ways radically different than people and no results are comparable. This is patently false. Not every animal can be used for everything, but over time we learn what animals are good models for some processes. For instance the recent artificial hearts probably never would have been implanted without numerous practice surgerys on pigs, who have similar heart needs. Rabbit eyes while not perfect are a good predictor of irritation in human eyes. Failure of a drug in one animal model doesn't mean you can't try it in a different animal if you think it will give more accurate resuls.

      I have actually protested (seriously!) animal research in the past, but that doesn't mean all animal research is bad. Complaining about a single rat with a microscope on its head isn't worth one's time. For instance one experiment I recently found offensive involved dozens of parakeets that were intentionally maimed, allowed to live for several more weeks and then vivisected. After reading the research reports and other documentation (it dealt with studying language acquisition), I concluded that this treatment was substantially unjustified and went after it. (The experiment is now over, though largely because it reached its natural conclusion before there was enough momentum to close it down preemptively.)

      If you really want to stop ALL animal research you basically need to prove one of three points:

      1) No animal research produces useful information.
      2) The amount of misinformation greatly outweighs the value of any useful infomration.
      3) The ethical implications of harming animals are never justifiable.

      IMHO, the first two are largely false when dealing with human medicine and entirely false when the point of the research is to learn about the animal in question. The ethical point is hard to justify unless you are opposed to all medicine, or deny that the suffering/death of animals can ever be justified by improvements in the lives of people. (Not all animal experiments lead to improvements in the human condition, but at least some does.)

      I am concerned for animals and have taken active stances to defend their rights, but I think blatantly opposing all forms of animal research is unrealistic and counterproductive.
  • Why should this be so exciting!
    They can hardly see much because it will only give an image of the surface of the brain. And also, only one little part of the surface will be visible. A brain is 3D not 2D, hope that they know that.

    Why cant they just use Magnetic Resonance Imaging instead, then they doesnt even have to put stuff in the poor little rats head. Using nuclear magnetic resonance seems to me to be the only way to se things in 3D because you can scan out "slices" and put them together and so to speak get a 3D-picture of the stuff in the brain.
    That would be much more easy and also more ethical.
    • Why cant they just use Magnetic Resonance Imaging instead, then they doesnt even have to put stuff in the poor little rats head. Using nuclear magnetic resonance seems to me to be the only way to se things in 3D because you can scan out "slices" and put them together and so to speak get a 3D-picture of the stuff in the brain.

      Actually, PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and CAT (Computed Axial Tomography [via x-ray absorption scanning]) and even old-fashioned ultrasound give you 3D pictures too.

      None of these are anywhere close to the resolution you'd get looking through a microscope. Great for finding tumours or looking at large-scale brain activity, and useless for looking at function on the level of individual neurons.

      Even if you're looking only at surface neurons, watching neurons while they're operating in a brain will teach you one heck of a lot (especially if you hook a spectrophotometer up to the microscope and get chemical composition readouts - neurochemistry is only partly understood).
  • "...a two-assed monkey!"
  • What good does having a microscope do? Im pretty sure we know what neurons look like. What would be neat is something that allows us to look at how the electrical impulses are sent and the interactions between them. Some sort of device that tracks the origin of electric signals and where they move to could be built, im sure. Of course, not having a degree in electronics or anything, i dont know how large or small this would be.


    We could look and say, "Oh, it moved its leg, hmm......went from this neuron to this one........then to here...." things like that. And as far as i can imagine, thats the real mystery. But hey, everything is a step. This proves that we can make things that small, and that the animal rights people dont yell about this....yet. Shall wait and see....could be intersting.

  • Hmm, how long is it going to be before we have the RatCam?
  • I bet PETA just loves this :-)
  • All I want is some sharks with lasers implanted in their heads; is that too much to ask??

    -- Dr. Evil

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