by David Mendez
Researchers, led by a neuroscientist from Duke University, have found a way to link the brains of two rats that are occupying different cages—and that's not even the crazy part.
In the new study, the researchers implanted small electrode arrays in two regions of the rats’ brains, one involved in planning movements, and one involved in the sense of touch.
Then they trained several rats to poke their noses and whiskers through a small opening in the wall of their enclosure to determine its width. The scientists randomly changed the width of the opening to be either narrow or wide for each trial, and the rats had to learn to touch one of two spots depending on its width. They touched a spot to the right of the opening when it was wide and the spot on the left when it was narrow. When they got it correct, they received a drink. Eventually they got it right 95 percent of the time.
Next, the team wanted to see if signals from the brain of a rat trained to do this task could help another rat in a different cage choose the correct spot to poke with its nose — even if it had no other information to go on.
They tested this idea with another group of rats that hadn’t learned the task. In this experiment, one of these new rats sat in an enclosure with two potential spots to receive a reward but without an opening in the wall. On their own, they could only guess which of the two spots would produce a rewarding drink. As expected, they got it right 50 percent of the time.
Then the researchers recorded signals from one of the trained rats as it did the nose-poke task and used those signals to stimulate the second, untrained rat’s brain in a similar pattern. When it received this stimulation, the second rat’s performance climbed to 60 or 70 percent. That’s not nearly as good as the rats who could actually use their sense of touch to solve the problem, but it’s impressive given that the only information they had about which spot to chose came from another animal’s brain, Nicolelis says.
Information was transferred from one brain to another, by way of electronic stimulation, and no other intermediary.
Scientist hope to use this information to help patients who have suffered brain injuries through trauma or stroke to rehabilitate and recover function (though a researcher notes that you don't necessarily need another brain to do that, just a computer program), while I wonder how long it will take before private industry (Google?) acquires and uses this tech to transmit data to us directly—like, say, kung fu.
We're just that much closer to The Matrix, people.