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Education Science

Backyard Brains Can Help Satisfy Your Inner Frankenstein (Video) 199

Posted by Roblimo
from the do-not-try-this-on-your-little-brother-or-sister dept.
Did you know that cockroaches have such large nerves in their legs that you can poke into their legs almost at random and hit a nerve with an electrode so you can stimulate that leg with hip-hop music and and watch it move? And that you can easily order the parts to do this at home or at school? You can. And supplies to perform many other neuroscience experiments, too. Amaze your friends! Learn how neurons work! Gross out squeamish people! All that (and more) is what Backyard Brains is about.



Would you like to submit a video to Slashdot? Email robin AT roblimo dot com

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Backyard Brains Can Help Satisfy Your Inner Frankenstein (Video)

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  • Damn, that's really neat.
    This is one of those times I wished I lived in the U.S... We just don't get such nice stuff by mail order in Europe.

  • That's not funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:41AM (#40165839)

    Sticking an electrode into a creature and have it twitching to music is not funny, it's cruel.

    • Re:That's not funny (Score:5, Informative)

      by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:44AM (#40165875)

      That's what I thought, but they cut off the leg (not do it on the cockroach), use juvenile cockroaches that can grow their legs back, and they anesthetize the roach with icewater first.

      • by million_monkeys (2480792) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @10:53AM (#40166629)

        That's a pretty weak defense against a claim of cruelty. A human analogue: Suppose you need a bunch of healthy teeth for an experiment. Find a child and yank out a few teeth - they'll grow new ones eventually. Shoot them up full of Novocaine first and they won't even feel it. I assume no one thinks that's acceptable?

        If you're ok with the process because it's only a cockroach, just admit that. Don't try to use some false justification to convince yourself that you were humane about cutting it's leg off.

        • by codewarren (927270) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @11:07AM (#40166863)

          A human analog is irrelevant. Humans are not analogous to cockroaches in this way. Humans feel pain through nociceptors. Cockroaches don't have these.

          Besides that Humans can feel horror and misery that a brain as simple as a cockroaches almost certainly cannot. They do not have higher emotions and higher functions. They don't even have memory. Whatever it is like to be a cockroach, it is almost certainly nothing like what it is like to be a human.

          • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @11:52AM (#40167689) Homepage Journal

            Whatever it is like to be a cockroach, it is almost certainly nothing like what it is like to be a human.

            Excuse me, but a Mr. Franz Kafka says he would like to have a word with you.

          • Two words: prove it.

            You are merely making assumptions about these things, but really have no actual idea. If you state outright that these are truths, I would like you to prove it.

          • by scubamage (727538)
            They still display nociception (writhing on a pin when stabbed for example), and they have receptors for endogenous opioids. This suggests that they still have some sort of elementary reception of noxious stimuli, and their bodies release chemicals to dull sensations of pain. While no, its most likely not the sensation humans are used to, it is still a negative sensation that should be minimized.
          • by TheLink (130905)

            Besides that Humans can feel horror and misery that a brain as simple as a cockroaches almost certainly cannot.

            What makes you so certain? If you were in a cockroach body you would have limited senses and physical abilities, so even if you feel horror and misery how would you prove it to some human? Cockroaches may not pass IQ tests, but how can you be so sure they don't feel pain, horror and misery? And how much can you learn with a limited cockroach body? They certainly do have memory: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070927132543.htm [sciencedaily.com]

            Maybe amoebas too: http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artsep01/feed.h [microscopy-uk.org.uk]

          • A human analog is irrelevant. Humans are not analogous to cockroaches in this way. Humans feel pain through nociceptors. Cockroaches don't have these.

            Besides that Humans can feel horror and misery that a brain as simple as a cockroaches almost certainly cannot. They do not have higher emotions and higher functions. They don't even have memory. Whatever it is like to be a cockroach, it is almost certainly nothing like what it is like to be a human.

            Thanks for a needed dose of common-sense.

            Crazy, misinformed environment activists (as opposed to reasonable, educated environment engineers) speak as if animal life was just as dignified as human life.
            Newsflash: it isn't. Humans have far greater intelligence, are self-aware, and have free-will. While animals (specially mammals) should not be needlessly mistreated, they aren't to be treated as humans either.

            If an economic project needs to put down an hectare of trees, it should be permitted unless it will ha

            • Cockroaches are like humans so we shouldn't hurt them? who says that?

              Not me.
              I say: play with somebody your own size, coward.

          • Whatever it is like to be a cockroach, it is almost certainly nothing like what it is like to be a human.

            What you mean hiding in secluded dark places waiting patiently for the moment of total world domination? The only difference between us and the cockroaches is we have computers.

          • by tehcyder (746570)
            That's quite a lot of "almost certainlys". The fact is that you are guessing.

            A lot of people would argue that no animals have "higher emotions" and that, for example, if you torture a kitten to deathh it's just displaying purely physical reactions, and has no concept of being tortured or of its impending doom. Even if that's true, it doesn't make it right. And it certainly doesn't make it right when it's just a toy for geeks.

            It is the motivation of the humans causing unnecessary suffering that is t
        • by ArsonSmith (13997)

          it's also OK to spray chemicals around to kill off the child infestation of your house too. Or to turn on the kitchen light and jump on the child before it runs under the fridge.

        • by rolfwind (528248)

          I already do this to gather teeth to get rich off of the tooth fairy. We tell the little bastards that the we're removing isn't a tooth, but bone cancer from the jaw we need to remove pronto.

    • I have to agree. Cockroach or not.

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      Sticking an electrode into a creature and have it twitching to music is not funny, it's cruel.

      Cruel and very, very gross. Yuck. Cockroaches.

    • Re:That's not funny (Score:5, Interesting)

      by codewarren (927270) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @10:04AM (#40166075)

      If you stuck a venus fly trap for the same purpose, or you stabbed a maple tree for the purpose of making it bleed, is that also cruel? Practically everyone can see that it is cruel to do this to a human, while practically everyone can see it is not cruel to do this to do it to a plant. Somewhere between these, we went from cruel to not cruel. Is there a line, on one side of which is cruel, and on the other is not cruel, or is there a spectrum of cruelty here? And what property of these "creatures" makes it crueler to do so to some, than to others?

      • The line is: Plant vs Animal. It's really not that hard. Animals have this central processing unit that allows the feeling of pain. We call it a brain. Plants, to the best of our knowledge, feel no pain.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No, it is not that simple, not all members of the animal kingdom have enough neurons to "feel" anything. You would not conceder reflexive movement in someone who has lost most of their brain to indicate real sensation. You need a *lot* more complexity than even complex reflexes to consider anything capable of feeling (and flys have only a little more than a millionth of our complexity). Vertebrates would make a good first start, along with creatures with similar or higher complexity levels to the simple ver

          • by TheLink (130905)

            The last I checked amoebas certainly don't have neurons. Where's your proof that they don't feel anything? They sure seem to react to the environment and it's not just dumb reflexes. http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artsep01/feed.html [microscopy-uk.org.uk]
            Some even build shells!

            I suspect the main difference between single celled creatures and us is the single celled creatures haven't managed to scale to our size and thus get our abilities.

            If you pilot an amoeba, you're not going to do that much fancy stuff even if you're a ho

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's actually not true at all. Pain is carried by nociceptors, which are found in higher orders. Insects have not been demonstrated to have nociceptors. They "feel" noxious stimuli. But they don't process noxious stimuli as "pain". They process it as a feeling, and something they want to get away from. But their nervous system doesn't process it as an "unpleasant" stimulus. Just a stimulus that might possibly kill them, so they should flee the stimulus.

        • Re:That's not funny (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Rakishi (759894) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @11:58AM (#40167823)

          Cockroaches are not humans.

          By your argument a neural network running on my computer also feels "pain" and our collective computer systems are the worst set of torturers to have ever existed.

      • by satuon (1822492)

        Well, a plant doesn't have a nervous system so it can't feel pain. Insects have a nervous system so they probably feel pain, but then, their nervous system is so simple I doubt their pain has any meaning.

        • My point is that more is required to feel pain than "has neurons", or even "has a nervous system". A crucial part of the human experience of pain involves nociceptors which cockroaches do not have, for example. My point from the beginning is that revulsion from perceived cruelty in prodding cockroaches in this way is due to anthropomorphizing cockroaches and not any actual cruelty.

          Based on the modding, here, it looks like actual scientific data still takes a back seat to intuition.

          • by satuon (1822492)

            I actually was agreeing with you. That's why I said I doubt their pain has any meaning. To elaborate, if a computer has a thermal sensor that detects that its CPU is going to melt, and it tries to shutdown the system, does this count as pain? In the same way, perhaps an insects nervous system is so simple that it feeling pain is not much different than that.

          • by tehcyder (746570)
            I don't want anyone who thinks it's funny to make disembodied insects' legs twitch anywhere near my kids

            Intuitive and un-scientific?

            Hint: I don't give a fuck about the cockroaches..
      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        The line is based on intent. If you are ripping cockroach legs off just to watch it suffer, or if you are punching holes in a tree just to watch it die then it's cruel. If you are doing honest research and experimentation then it may not be cruel. It still may not be the right thing to do though.

    • by seven of five (578993) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @10:55AM (#40166659) Homepage
      Don't be too surprised if, after you die, there's a roomful of oversized roaches waiting for you with jumper cables and a car battery.
      • by tom17 (659054)

        Have you ever touched the terminals of a car battery? Quite the jolt I tell you.

        Not.

        Now, as for the pinching pain from the jump leads, yeah that would hurt like fuck. Car battery not required.

        • by tehcyder (746570)
          I'm sure once the giant cockroaches worked out that the battery wasn't hurting you they'd just start snipping off your bits and pieces with their monstrous jaws anyway, so I wouldn't get too cocky.
      • by StikyPad (445176)

        Noted, Gary Larson.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      The two are not exclusive. Besides, cockroaches don't really have a central conscious brain or something, you can cut their head off and they will continue to live happily.

    • by plover (150551) *

      I came here to post "won't somebody think of the cockroaches?", but apparently somebody is.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Sticking an electrode into a creature and have it twitching to music is not funny, it's cruel.

      I did wonder whether anyone would say this.

      I'm fairly sure that if people were selling home vivisection kits for puppies there would be a bit more of an uproar.

      I know they're only cockroaches, the point is the mentality of the people who think this is fun. It's like kids pulling the wings off flies or the legs off spiders: the worry is that this is the beginning of a well trodden path leading to psycopathic behaviour in adults.There is a sort of unholy triumvirate of animal cruelty, firestarting and

  • Didn't Dexter get started with stuff like this? In 20 years there will be some kid suing /. because he read this article and turned into a serial killer.
  • Cockroaches (Score:5, Informative)

    by scubamage (727538) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:43AM (#40165869)
    At first the animal lover in me was wondering about the ethics of randomly cutting apart cockroaches without any clear scientific benefit outside of learning (at least dissections tend to teach more than one person - disclaimer, I was on a human subject review board for scientific studies at my college). However it looks like they go out of their way to actually keep everything humane. And, its also important to note that the cockroaches are anesthetized, and their legs do in fact grow back. They get a thumbs up!
    • by durrr (1316311) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:55AM (#40166005)

      I'm pretty sure that insects are not covered by any animal cruelty laws and regulations, building a cockroach-sized medieval torture chamber is as such entirely legal although perhaps somewhat eccentric.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        I'm pretty sure that insects are not covered by any animal cruelty laws and regulations, building a cockroach-sized medieval torture chamber is as such entirely legal although perhaps somewhat eccentric.

        You misspelled psychotic.

    • by StikyPad (445176)

      Since insects don't feel pain, I think the anesthesia is more about the convenience of having the bug hold still while its leg is amputated. And maybe to make people feel better. Judging by your response, It worked.

      • by scubamage (727538)
        Actually, we're unsure whether or not insects feel pain. Many possess opioid/opiate receptors, which would suggest that their body may produce opioids/opiates to nullify pain. In which case, they may in fact feel pain, or else they'd have no reason to have those receptors. Given that, the safer assumption is to assume they do.
        • by StikyPad (445176)

          Sorry, no. The recent discovery of endogenous opioid peptides and their receptor sites in various invertebrates (including insects) may encourage the belief that these animals can experience pain in view of the analgesic role of opioid peptides in mammals. However, the various functions, unrelated to pain experience, which are mediated by opioids in mammals, as well as the known occurrence of two such compounds in a protozoan, suggest that the endogenous opioids of invertebrates may function in regulating

  • Slashvertisement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:49AM (#40165943)

    Did you know that nerds have such large deficiencies in their brains that you can post Slashdot articles almost at random so you can stimulate that advertising revenue with advertisements disguised as badly edited articles and watch them squirm? And that you can easily order the editors to do this at home or at work? You can. And supplies to perform many other psychology experiments, too. Amaze your investors! Learn how marketing works! Alienate your readers! All that (and more) is what Slashvertisement is about.

  • Put at least SOME effort into making the submission not appear to be an advertisement (even if it is one).
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @10:50AM (#40166573)

    Shameless articles about torturing animals (even insects are beneath this) and astroturfing posts cheering them on. Wag of the finger, site I used to love...

    • The difference between a cockroach nervous system and a human nervous system, especially with regards to pain pathways, is immense. Your intuition is just wrong. Cockroaches can't suffer like humans can because they have no higher order functions. They don't think, they don't remember, they don't have desires, or higher emotions because they lack the circuitry for it.

      It is an insult to human torture victims to compare a cockroach's experience to that of a human's. You've inflicted more torture on this w

      • by gibbsjoh (186795)

        Asshat. This isn't for medical science or anything as noble - it's "hey look what happens when we do this" and fundamentally no different to shooting things for fun. It's irrelevant that the roaches "feel no pain" - it's unethical, full stop.

        • If one shoots a tree, is that also unethical, full stop? No, because what matters is what it is like to be the one being experimented on. Since trees don't care if you shoot them, shooting them is not unethical. Cockroaches lack the circuitry require to "care", this wouldn't be torture any more than making computers do what we want would be slave labor. Incidentally they also lack the pain pathways humans have.

          You could just think this through instead of assuming that everyone who doesn't conform to you

        • Asshat. This isn't for medical science or anything as noble - it's "hey look what happens when we do this" and fundamentally no different to shooting things for fun. It's irrelevant that the roaches "feel no pain" - it's unethical, full stop.

          What the hell? There is a single reason why it's unethical to do that to a human. They feel pain, both physical and mental anguish. If we did not, it would not be unethical to do it to humans. The cockroach does not, so it is not unethical to do it with them.

          By all means, lock them up in a glass jar and check out how long they can go without food. Cut out legs. Poke it. Who the fuck cares? It certainly doesn't, why should you?

  • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @10:51AM (#40166597)

    Title: Backyard Brains Makes Educational (and Fun) Bioengineering Lab Kits
    Description: Their motto is "Neuroscience for Everyone," and they mean it!

    00:00) TITLE
    A shot of Rob Rozeboom sitting at a small table appears with the SlasdotTV logo bar reading "Slashdot Editor Rob Rozeboom".

    00:00) Rob
    If you're a fan of Frankenstein but have worries about villagers chasing you with pitchforks and torches, the folks at Backyard Brains have science kits for you.

    00:08) TITLE
    The SlashdotTV title sequence appears with the title Backyard Brains and two small photos of electronics mounted to insects.

    00:12) TITLE
    A view of a guy at a group desk with various computer screens and tools appears.

    00:12) Guy
    To all those out there on the interwebs listening to me and thinking "When is this guy gonna show us the inventions already?",

    00:17) TITLE
    The SlashdotTV logo bar fades in and out of view identifying this guy as "Backyard Brains Co-Founder Timothy Marzullo".

    00:17) Timothy
    The reason I can talk fast and hopefully talk about interesting things or boring things is because I have neurons.
    Neurons are electrochemical devices - cells - and it's hard to monitor the chemical secretions - the neurotransmitters - because they happen in very small spaces, you need powerful microscopes and fluorescently tagged molecules, but the electricity that a neuron generates is easy to... well, easier to monitor due to this magical invention which is allowing all the listeners to watch me and it's called the transistor.
    We all know due to the magic of the PN- and NP-junctions and creative uses of capacitors and resistors, we can make amplifiers and even computers.

    00:58) Timothy
    So what we have here are cockroaches and these are [...]

    01:03) TITLE
    The view zooms in on the box of cockroaches

    01:03) Timothy
    [...] muy especial cockroaches
    - viven en el bosque de Sudamerica - they live in the rain forests of South America.
    One of the reasons cockroaches are so fast is they have very large neurons in their legs. [...]

    01:16) TITLE
    The view zooms back out

    01:16) Timothy
    [...] These very large neurons are quite easy to record from.
    Now, we want to treat the cockroaches in a humane fashion, so we need to anesthetize them and so, uhm.. did you bring your halothane with you, in addition to your camera?

    01:31) Rob
    No..

    01:32) Timothy
    The propathol?

    01:33) Rob
    No... I

    01:34) Timothy
    The pentobarbital?

    01:35) Rob
    I might have a fifth of Jack in the car, but..

    01:38) Timothy
    Yeah, yeah.. so we could actually use that for the earthworms, but for the cockroaches we're just gonna use.. this is relatively old technology that probably doesn't excite the people at Slashdot that much, but when water goes below a certain temperature it undergoes a phase change in terms from a liquid to a solid, and so what we have here is ice, in water, and so we're gonna put the cockroaches in the ice water [...]

    02:03) TITLE
    The view zooms in on the cup of ice water

    02:03) Timothy
    [...] and after a minute or two that will chill them out and anesthetize them.

    02:06) Timothy
    I'm actually allergic to cockroaches because I've been working on them for about two years.
    I used to work in a rat lab, then I got allergic to rats, so I moved to cockroaches, now I'm allergic to cockroaches, so I'll have to move to.. maybe jellyfish and sea anemones next.
    It's a constantly.. I'm constantly fighting this battle between creatures.

    02:25) TITLE
    Timothy grabs a cockroach and puts it into the ice water.

    02:25) Timothy
    So these are.. they live in the rotting trees of the Amazonian rain forest, and I'm jut gonna dunk 'm into the ice water.
    And because these are cold-blooded, he can't mod.. regulate his own body core temperature and after a minute or two, he'll slowly.. he'll begin to move slower and slower and then we can do our exp

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