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Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish 235

Posted by samzenpus
from the please-kill-me dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney writes that a team of biomedical engineers at the University of Pittsburgh led by Henry Zeringue have managed to grow an active brain in a dish, complete with memories by culturing brain cells capable of forming networks, complete with biological signals. To produce the models, the Pitt team stamped adhesive proteins onto silicon discs. Once the proteins were cultured and dried, cultured hippocampus cells from embryonic rats were fused to the proteins and then given time to grow and connect to form a natural network. The researchers disabled the cells' inhibitory response and excited the neurons with an electrical pulse which were then able to sustain the resulting burst of network activity for up to what in neuronal time is 12 long seconds compared to the natural duration of .25 seconds. The ability of the brain to hold information 'online' long after an initiating stimulus is a hallmark of brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex. The team will next work to understand the underlying factors that govern network communication and stimulation, such as the various electrical pathways between cells and the genetic makeup of individual cells. 'This is amazing,' writes Toney. 'I wonder what the "memory" could be — could be a good subject for a science fiction story.'"
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Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish

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  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:43AM (#36251492)
    You never know what you'll get in a run-of-the-mill brain. -Igor
  • by i_ate_god (899684) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:43AM (#36251494) Homepage

    I look forward to reading the moral and philosophical debates that will erupt over the idea of creating a functional brain.

    • I agree, geez, I'm usually Captain Science and Progress before all things Religious, but I wonder if this "brain" was in any way "conscious" for that short period of time? Or am I misunderstanding what was achieved here?
      • Re:Morality (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:29PM (#36252136)
        It's hardly a brain and certainly not a complete one. It's more like a (presumably basic) approximation of the neural networks cells in the brain form in order to preserve stimuli. It's less a conscious memory being stored and more the raw sensory input.

        They've grown an organic pre-processing buffer.
        • "It's less a conscious memory being stored and more the raw sensory input."

          You mean they've created Arnold Schwarzenegger?

      • by i_ate_god (899684)

        I agree, geez, I'm usually Captain Science and Progress before all things Religious, but I wonder if this "brain" was in any way "conscious" for that short period of time? Or am I misunderstanding what was achieved here?

        Religion isn't the owner of morality. It's merely a definition of morality.

      • by ipwndk (1898300)

        It is too simple to have had a consciousness. The article reads that it contained only 40-60 neurons.

        Have a look at the animals here [wikipedia.org], to get an idea of the number of neurons required for various levels of intelligence.

        The definition of conscience is as far as I'm also vague as to whether that is intelligence like a humans, an intelligence on the level of a human, or an intelligence on the level of animals. I mean for example that several animals like for example Elephants are self-aware and emotional crea

      • by hoggoth (414195)

        The brain had just enough time for a single thought: "fuck!"

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      I look forward to reading the moral and philosophical debates that will erupt over the idea of creating a functional brain.

      - well, yes, all of those debates will be started by those, who are in possession of non-functional brains.

      • by Golddess (1361003)

        well, yes, all of those debates will be started by those, who are in possession of non-functional brains.

        I think that's a little unfair. Personally, if I just so happened to be a brain grown in a lab, I don't think I'd like someone poking around in me.

        Sure, it's science fiction now. But is the idea of growing in a lab a fully functioning and conscious human brain, complete with its own distinct memories, really so far outside the realm of possibility that anyone debating how we should treat such a brain must be an idiot?

        • by roman_mir (125474)

          I think that's a little unfair. Personally, if I just so happened to be a brain grown in a lab, I don't think I'd like someone poking around in me.

          - and?

          Rights are there to establish what a government (the collective) can do to you and what cannot be done to you by the government. If you are some brain matter grown in a petri dish - good luck negotiating the terms of the government either leaving your alone there, and not using you for some purpose, such as a piece of functional equipment to fly ICBMs with nuclear bombs on them for more precise targeting, or getting some sort of gov't protection, so you can't legally be grown and pocked into by whoev

          • by Golddess (1361003)
            My point was it is not at all silly to be having moral and philosophical debates on the treatment of such brains. Or do you have a problem with people standing up for the rights of others?
      • by i_ate_god (899684)

        huh? I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic or making pun or what. Creating artificial life definitely has moral and philosophical implications that are probably impossible to resolve, but a lot of people enjoy debating them.

        • by roman_mir (125474)

          read this thread again, you'll get the idea. It's not 'impossible to resolve' - there is nothing to resolve, it's a non-issue.

          • by i_ate_god (899684)

            Er, rights are far more esoteric than just some governmental construct.

            • by roman_mir (125474)

              you don't know what you are even saying. There is nothing esoteric about rights, they are very specific:

              You have all the rights and government has only the rights that are given to it by the agreement between separate entities that make up the government.

              There is nothing else about rights, but only this: it's about establishing the boundary of what the government can do to you and how you are protected from it.

              There is nothing else at all that rights can mean. You cannot have a right to something. You can't

    • The first thing I thought of when I saw this was the whale popping into existence in the sky in 'Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy'. Oh hey, this is great, what is this thing I'm in? I'll call it a petri dish...
  • I no longer fear the zombie apocalypse. I just need a few "brains in a can" that I can open the pop-top and throw at the zombies whilst I make my getaway! yay science!

  • 'I wonder what the "memory" could be...

    I, for one, welcome our new Brains-in-a-dish Overlords!

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:45AM (#36251524) Homepage
    We're getting closer and closer to really understanding how the brain works. Being able to actually make small networks in the lab is a pretty big deal. When we really start understanding this we'll be able to start doing the really cool stuff, like genetically modifying people to increase intelligence and adding direct computer interfaces. At the same time, this research shows that we have a long way to go before we get to that point, in that there's a lot happening with these cells that was unexpected and adds to the long list of things about the brain and neurons that we don't understand.
    • is that it seems we'll probably produce a self-aware artificial/semi-artificial intelligent system long before we actually understand it all.

      It's sort of like Marie Curie experimenting with radioactivity before she understood it fully - and it wound up eventually killing her.

    • Please tell me the real, fundamental reason (ethics aside) it wouldn't be just as valid a scientific endeavor to forge ahead all at once without trying to understand every step and the implications of every signal. "we don't understand this yet" is not a reason to say we have a long way to go. All it would take is understanding of how to keep these cells alive and connecting, a large number of rat embryos, a clean room, and a scientist who doesn't care about his reputation to make a large working brain-in-a
      • by JoshuaZ (1134087)

        Please tell me the real, fundamental reason (ethics aside) it wouldn't be just as valid a scientific endeavor to forge ahead all at once without trying to understand every step and the implications of every signal. "we don't understand this yet" is not a reason to say we have a long way to go. All it would take is understanding of how to keep these cells alive and connecting, a large number of rat embryos, a clean room, and a scientist who doesn't care about his reputation to make a large working brain-in-a-lab and I think we have all of that.

        We don't know enough to even try this. You can't just stick a lot of brain cells together like that. They would need blood vessels to supply them with oxygen, and would need glial cells to provide physical support, and if you had a random mishmash of brain cells, it is unlikely to do anything.

    • This gives Blue Screen of Death a totally new meaning.

    • At the same time, this research shows that we have a long way to go before we get to that point, in that there's a lot happening with these cells that was unexpected and adds to the long list of things about the brain and neurons that we don't understand.

      Exactly.

      I think it's pretty funny seeing studies which talk about which areas of the brain being having more blood flow under certain conditions (using fMRI to measure), then the authors of the study trying to made grand statements about what is happening using just that information, when they really have very little clue what is happening. It's like judging a computer by saying "look, now this area is drawing more power!". You might be able to figure out that one part does graphics, one does sound, one doe

      • being having = have*

        My fault for going back and changing the wording of my sentences.

      • by Unkyjar (1148699)

        It's like trying to cure mental problems by giving someone a bunch of electric shocks rather than actually dealing with the root problem. Pretty barbaric.

        Actually Electroconvulsive therapy isn't anything like the images conjured up by popular culture, where most people have their image of the procedure based entirely on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It is useful and helps many people live far more normal and happier lives than they would have otherwise faced.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroconvulsive_therapy [wikipedia.org]

        • I didn't say it doesn't help sometimes, but it's still pretty barbaric/crude/simplistic. As the page you link to says: "its mode of action is unknown". It's kind of like the generic IT fix - have you tried turning it off and on again? It might fix the problem, but it would be nice to know what the original cause was to make sure it won't happen again.

          • by Unkyjar (1148699)

            I apologize for the misunderstanding. I had assumed by the term barbaric you had meant either the first general definition: savagely cruel; exceedingly brutal.

  • My guess (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:46AM (#36251548)

    'I wonder what the "memory" could be â" could be a good subject for a science fiction story.'

    Considering that they had just jolted it with a pulse of electricity, my guess would be, "OMFGTURNITOFFTURNITOFF!!!"

    • by Golddess (1361003)
      Perhaps not quite with the level of understanding that that would seem to imply (at least to me), but a memory of an unpleasant experience was certainly my first thought as well. But then I remembered how I'd heard long ago that the brain cannot feel pain [google.com].
    • Depends on where they jolted it. Pick just the right spot and it would be "OMFGGIVEMEMOREGIVEMEMOREGIVEMEMORE!"

  • by mschaffer (97223) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:49AM (#36251596)

    This just proves that you can make a dish smarter.
    Let me know when they can actually make my smartphone smarter.

    • by arkenian (1560563)

      This just proves that you can make a dish smarter. Let me know when they can actually make my smartphone smart.

      FTFY

    • This just proves that you can make a dish smarter. Let me know when they can actually make my smartphone smarter.

      Just upgrade it to ice-cream sandwich.

  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:54AM (#36251634) Homepage Journal

    According to the brain, "The first ten minutes were the worst, and the second ten minutes, they were the worst too. The third ten minutes I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline." Apparently, the best conversation he'd had was over 40 minutes ago, and that was with a coffee machine.

    • by tom17 (659054)

      What was he doing by the coffee machine?

  • I wonder what the "memory" could be — could be a good subject for a science fiction story.

    A vague collection of TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

  • It's an old story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:00PM (#36251694)

    Goethe, wrote the Faust story most of us are familiar with. He also wrote a second part. In part 2 there is a homunculus, which is basically a mind that floats around in a test tube. He spends a lot of time wondering why he exists and if, indeed, he should exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust:_The_Second_Part_of_the_Tragedy [wikipedia.org]

    I am guessing that, if we do create conscious minds in a test tube, those minds will suffer a lot of angst. Maybe even the majority of our thinking processes are moderated by our physical limitations and by our hormones. Could we live in a test tube without going insane?

    • by jd (1658)

      I dunno. I try to stay clear of the people who apparently do live in test tubes.

    • The thing is that it seems the neuroses and psychoses of sensory deprivation are generally catalyzed by loss, not lack. When you look at things like the 'Total Isolation' experiment [wikipedia.org] there are obvious signs of mental distress even to the point of regression/debilitation. However, these same symptoms do not occur in the congenitally blind. The congenitally blind don't see things that aren't there because they don't have any experiential reference for 'seeing' in the first place. Nor do they have any inherent
    • Re:It's an old story (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @01:44PM (#36253346)

      I am guessing that, if we do create conscious minds in a test tube, those minds will suffer a lot of angst. Maybe even the majority of our thinking processes are moderated by our physical limitations and by our hormones. Could we live in a test tube without going insane?

      If we could precisely replicate a human brain and grow it in a jar and didn't somehow give it an artificial world to inhabit -- a robotic body, the Matrix, anything -- it would be profoundly non-functional. Angst wouldn't come into it, insanity wouldn't come into it. It wouldn't become nearly clever enough to go insane. Consider what happens with a so-called "feral" child, usually a kid raised in profound isolation, like being locked in a closet or something. That child at least has sensory inputs, has some control of a body, has experienced eating and breathing, and on and on. And yet even when given good care later in life they very rarely learn to walk correctly, become toilet trained, understand basic human expressions, and so on. They barely function as humans. Now imagine a brain with no sensory inputs at all, maybe at most nervous sensations of whatever growth fluid it is suspended in, along with the occasional jolts of electricity sent by the researchers. Would it even be able to think in a way we'd remotely call human? It would have no purchase on anything with which to build a concept of the world, of anything, even of how to go about the process of thinking. It would be a hunk of meat with a few interesting capabilities.

      • The brain, released from the bonds of the body, then develops its full potential for telepathy and telekinesis. Soon all conscious life is living in a world that it constructed.
        • by Unkyjar (1148699)

          Until Fry, who immune to their Brain drain powers manages to save New New York, and all of Earth.

    • We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

      Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7
      Activity Recorded M.Y. 2302.22467
      TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED

      SMAC had some really great quotes on possible future technologies.

  • In the television show Quantum Leap, the main character Sam is 'guided' by Al who uses a sentient supercomputer named Ziggy. If I remember correctly, Ziggy was a project that Sam was involved in which melded human neural cells with silicon to create a super-awesome computer capable of computing probabilities and helping Sam figure out what to do next.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Quantum_Leap
  • The memory? (Score:2, Funny)

    by argStyopa (232550)

    It is a being with no functional understanding of the real world...only internalized ideals of what it thinks the world should be.

    It has no history, no knowledge of what went before. It lives in the now, with choices driven entirely by impulse.

    It is a being of pure ego, with the only thing it cares about being its own needs.

    I don't know what it is, but I'm pretty certain it would vote Democrat.

  • ...is what the lab techs called the thing in the dish.

  • Old slang (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:19PM (#36251962)

    "Dish" is old school slang. Nowadays we call them blonds.

    And I'm skeptical about some scientists claim to grow brains in them.

  • by LWATCDR (28044)

    And yet it is creepy as hell

  • CUDA to it yet ?
  • Why do researchers have to take things so literally? Next, they'll all go jump in lake?

  • Now if we could only get Congress to grow a brain.
  • I see that the research into getting Sarah Palin a brain transplant is going well.

  • the matrix

    "so i was bored and decided to check out a flick i hadn't seen but a lot of neurons were raving about, and let me just say, HOLY SHIT IT'S REALITY"

  • it had no sensory input, no history, nothing. If any actual 'thoughts' went on in the rat brain cells they would resemble nothing like what we think of as thought.

  • The Committee for the "Sarah Palin for President in 2012" have stated that due to new technologies, Ms.Palin now will be more than able to handle the complexities of being a president.
  • Well. This may go a long way in dealing with Zombie outbreaks.
  • Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of brains had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.

  • The IQ of the brain in a dish is 4, which is lightyears ahead of the US government.
  • "Brad Pitt's brain was grown in a dish."

At the source of every error which is blamed on the computer you will find at least two human errors, including the error of blaming it on the computer.

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