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Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the please-kill-me dept.

AI 235

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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Headline incomplete. (1)

TheGreatOrangePeel (618581) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251484)

That *should* read, "Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish, Gets Anamatronic Body, Orders Around Ninjas"

A pitcture of brains (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251600)

The Brains [blogspot.com]

They do LOVE to gamble!

Re:Headline incomplete. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252352)

That *should* read, "Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish, Gets Anamatronic Body, Orders Around Ninjas"

...and fights against gnarley turtles.

Re:Headline incomplete. (1)

hobo sapiens (893427) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252374)

I love how the body has like two levers to control all body functions. You know, so the brain can grab them with its... hands?

Re:Headline incomplete. (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252502)

That *should* read, "Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish, Gets Anamatronic Body, Creates smarter elected representative"

Morality (2)

i_ate_god (899684) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251494)

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

Re:Morality (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251642)

Why? I would like if they'd give the recipe to the rednecks and teabaggers for free.

Re:Morality (1)

ohcrapitssteve (1185821) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251778)

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 (3, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Morality (2)

i_ate_god (899684) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252224)

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.

Re:Morality (2)

ipwndk (1898300) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252362)

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 creatures. You can find many other examples.

What you had was however a very simply living being, that to a very limited degree had thought ;) I don't think it is wrong to either create it, or destroy it, not at this level of intelligence. It would have to have intelligence above that of insects before I would have problems against its destruction, but not its creation. Becomes problematic then; you're creating advanced life, can you then simply kill every failed experiment?

Personally I think research must be done until we not only create intelligent life on the level of our own, in whatever medium, hardware or software, and other intelligence that is equal in level but alien in function. How else will we truly learn to understand what intelligence is?

Re:Morality (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251830)

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.

Re:Morality (-1, Flamebait)

smelch (1988698) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251966)

Do tell us the moral and philosophical ramifications then if you have them figured out, you self-righteous ass. To assert that only an idiot would be concerned about morality and philosophy relating to how we treat man-made consciousness is beyond arrogant. There are philosophical quandries to making sufficiently advanced robots, at what point do things get human rights, what does this mean for animal rights and probing in to the essence of what consciousness is are all philosophical/moral debates, in addition to the "Stop playing God!" crowd. Holy crap I want to punch you in the mouth you're so blindingly stupid. I can not believe you mastered the use of a keyboard.

Re:Morality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252034)

Roman_mir is a sad little boy that actually has no sense of self-worth, no personal understanding of the universe, and no sense of self-security. He is afraid of death and his attitude which he demonstrated here is his defense mechanism he uses to get through his pathetic life.

Maybe he is still young and has lots of learning ahead of him. Maybe he's old. Regardless, he'll surely have a better run the next time around.

Re:Morality (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252214)

Do tell us the moral and philosophical ramifications then if you have them figured out, you self-righteous ass. To assert that only an idiot would be concerned about morality and philosophy relating to how we treat man-made consciousness is beyond arrogant. There are philosophical quandries to making sufficiently advanced robots, at what point do things get human rights, what does this mean for animal rights and probing in to the essence of what consciousness is are all philosophical/moral debates, in addition to the "Stop playing God!" crowd. Holy crap I want to punch you in the mouth you're so blindingly stupid. I can not believe you mastered the use of a keyboard.

And just like that, i_ate_god (899684) no longer has to wonder.

Re:Morality (1)

Golddess (1361003) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252008)

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?

Re:Morality (1)

i_ate_god (899684) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252200)

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.

Re:Morality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252118)

Seeing as this could be an alternative food source for the pending Zombie invasion, I'm all for it!

Re:Morality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252244)

If it becomes possible to make a "useful" brain for certain types of labor tasks with this before AI catches up, it will be done regardless of the moral weight. By China, perhaps... employed for price of glucose by American Corporation X.

That said, the devil is also in the details of particular brain. We already do bad shit to animals. One could have a highly motivated brain that wouldn't be suffering to solve captchas all day or moderate a Christian forum for pornographic content. The possibilities for something not explicitly evolved with certain mechanisms from natural selection seem vast.

My opinion: bad shit's going to happen. BUT, it will generally be out of sight, and the ramifications spread wide. I suggest anyone interested in the word "morality" and what it might mean for such quandaries beyond the typical economic rationales for what corporations do, which, frankly, easily support things like child slavery and genocide to my ears if only someone will pay, to read Sam Harris's latest book. [wikipedia.org] I'd appreciate other works along these lines too.

Finally! A way to distract the zombies! (1)

thomasdz (178114) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251500)

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!

Re:Finally! A way to distract the zombies! (3, Funny)

eexaa (1252378) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251572)

Zombies won't eat genetically modified brain when they can choose bio-friendly products.

Re:Finally! A way to distract the zombies! (2)

GNious (953874) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251766)

Zombies won't eat genetically modified brain when they can choose bio-friendly products.

So Americans would be safe then.

(*auch*)

Re:Finally! A way to distract the zombies! (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252470)

More general, anyone without a brain is safe.

Bert
That joke was a no-brainer

Re:Finally! A way to distract the zombies! (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252428)

Great. Just my luck. The Zombie Apocalypse comes and I'm well stocked with lots of Brain-In-A-Jars and the zombies that come for me prefer organic, free-range brains.

zombie atack (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251502)

now we are ready

The memory! Better be conservative here... (1)

Kensai7 (1005287) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251520)

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

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

Re:The memory! Better be conservative here... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251820)

Since it's a mix of brains and silicon, aren't these Borg?

And a little bit closer (4, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251524)

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.

Re:And a little bit closer (1)

razorh (853659) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251780)

Taking that a step further, just think where we were with computers and communications only 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago and think of the possibilities something like this could spark in the next 20 years.

Re:And a little bit closer (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252398)

Taking that a step further, just think where we were with computers and communications only 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago and think of the possibilities something like this could spark in the next 20 years.

At the very least, it will be good for conversations like this one.

Re:And a little bit closer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251906)

We're getting closer and closer to really understanding how the brain works...

Wrong.

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.

Right!

Re:And a little bit closer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252340)

We're getting closer and closer to really understanding how the brain works...

Wrong.

Wrong.

The disturbing part... (1)

mswhippingboy (754599) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251974)

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.

Why so cautious? (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251978)

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.

Re:And a little bit closer (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252122)

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 does disk IO, and that one is a general processor that is active pretty much all the time, etc, but you have no idea how they all actually work, what they're actually doing. That's where we are with the brain just now.

With more complex studies like this, it seems like we've barely even figured out the instruction set, let alone being anywhere near able to understand the processor design (don't complain about the analogies, you know what I mean!). We're at the stage of "we fried a bunch of neurons for a while". 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. Of course at this stage, it's also necessary until we find out more. I don't know how much we'll understand in my lifetime, but it's exciting to see things advance :)

I see a good use in this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251538)

This would be great to be able to keep zombies at bay and maybe become productive members of society using these cultivated brains as payment.

My guess (5, Funny)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 2 years ago | (#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!!!"

Re:My guess (1)

Golddess (1361003) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251842)

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].

Re:My guess (1)

Lyrata (1900038) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252022)

From your results: "no ur brain is what tells the rest of your body when to feel pain, but it doesn't itself feel pain, because it can't really tell itself to hut, this is y when u had brain trauma you pretty much die, and u can't feel it because that is ur brains job.. get it?? kinda??" I feel informed.

Re:My guess (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251960)

And the horror that it had to suffer for "12 long seconds"; that's almost an entire short minute.

Re:My guess (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252454)

Depends on where they jolted it. Pick just the right spot and it would be "OMFGGIVEMEMOREGIVEMEMOREGIVEMEMORE!"

A new Market?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251584)

Zombie food farms FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!

This just proves... (2)

mschaffer (97223) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251596)

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

Re:This just proves... (1)

arkenian (1560563) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251782)

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

FTFY

Re:This just proves... (1)

mswhippingboy (754599) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252014)

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.

Now we can replace white collar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251628)

Our very own slave brains. Just hook up I/O and start trying to make suitable ones for particular tasks.

Brain Thoughts (4, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251634)

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.

Re:Brain Thoughts (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251676)

What was he doing by the coffee machine?

Keyboard Garage (-1, Offtopic)

Dimwit (36756) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251650)

The original Amiga had a keyboard garage: the machine itself was raise a little off the desk, just enough for the keyboard to slide underneath it.

I loved every single thing about that computer. The Amiga 1200 was fine too. The Amiga 500 was great, but Commodore made their first big design snafu there - they put the Zorro expansion slot on the wrong side of the computer and upside down, so you couldn't use Amiga 1000 peripherals without also flipping them upside down.

(Still not as bad as the "PCMCIA" slot on the A600.)

Other things I miss: TUIs like Project Oberon and Symbolics Lisp. Hell, Lisp in general is now such a niche it's sad. "Real" Unix - lots of little programs that do one thing and do them well. cat -n considered harmful and all that.

Re:Keyboard Garage (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251720)

Did you post to the wrong story or something?

Re:Keyboard Garage (1)

ELitwin (1631305) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251806)

Maybe the cultured brain is named "Dimwit".

Not sure what interface it is using to post its memory on /. though.

Re:Keyboard Garage (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251882)

I and others have noted that sometimes stories end up in the wrong place. I personally have had it happen when I've not had multiple tabs open to confuse issues. If only I could economically record my screen in a loop.

Re:Keyboard Garage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251812)

M5 Tie In Hello??

Great! (1)

kehren77 (814078) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251664)

Let me know when they figure out how to install it in a person. I know quite a few people for whom this would be a considerable upgrade.

Alas, poor Brain (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251672)

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 (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:It's an old story (2)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251860)

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

What the memory could be? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251706)

What a question... It's p0rn!

ITS ALIVE! ITS ALIVE!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251738)

They applied the 225 MW charge activated by the lightning storm to his body, pulled the switch, and the monster came to life. The good doctor then stood back, wiped the perspiration from his brow and cried aloud "Its Alive! ITS ALIVE!!!." The doctor was not able to contain the monster, who quickly broke free of the chains containing him. Meanwhile, a crowd had started to assemble outside the castle gate, with pitchforks and stakes. Collectively they swore an oath: "The monster must be deeestroyyyyyed!

Quantum Leap - this already *was* used in sci-fi! (2)

johnthorensen (539527) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251762)

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? (2, Funny)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251822)

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.

Re:The memory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252048)

Mod parent up +5 insightful

Re:The memory? (0)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | more than 2 years ago | (#36252082)

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 $POLITICAL_PARTY_I_DON'T_LIKE.

FTFY
Personally $POLITICAL_PARTY_I_DON'T_LIKE would be either republicrat or demapub.

Re:The memory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252358)

Donald Trump votes $dummyPartyD?
I though he's officially is $dummyPartyR, after co-designing R dummy reality before.

It's sad you still think there are two parties, and that there is a democracy...

I don't believe it. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251826)

really...

Does it feel pain? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36251836)

I think that's a serious question (my brain isn't working well today.. *rimshot*). Would a brain which has been cultured like that "feel" anything at all?

Old slang (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#36251962)

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

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

The History of Brain-Meshes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252276)

Our Great Forefather was not aware of its surroundings; but it is believed that it had the thought cross it's shallow and stretched mind - "stop poking me with that #^@&!%@ probe!"

Wintermute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252440)

It's time to talk, Case....

I wonder if they can... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252444)

grow a brain in samzenpus?

Makes you wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36252478)

Kinda makes you wonder, if in those seconds of network activity there was data, like a self awareness of that brain, kind of like an "awakening" and then shutdown.

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