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Scientists create superbrain by linking thoughts of two rats

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Scientists link two rats' brains, a continent apart

Creating a "superbrain" of connected minds, scientists on Thursday said they had enabled a rat to help a fellow rodent while the animals were a continent apart but connected through brain electrodes.

With electrodes imbedded in its cortex, a rat in a research institute in Natal, Brazil sent signals via the Internet to a counterpart at a university lab in Durham, North Carolina, helping the second animal to get a reward.

The exploit opens up the prospect of linking brains among animals to create an "organic computer," said Brazilian neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis.

It also helps the quest to empower patients stricken with paralysis or locked-in syndrome, he said.

"We established a functional linkage between two brains. We created a superbrain that comprises two brains," Nicolelis said in a phone interview with AFP.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, Nicolelis' team gave basic training to thirsty rats, who had to recognise lights and operate a lever to get a reward of water.

They then implanted ultra-fine electrodes in the rats' brains, which were linked by a slender overhead cable to a computer.

In a glass tank in Natal, the first rat was the "encoder," its brain sending out a stream of electrical pulses as it figured out the tricks for getting the reward.

The pulses were sent in real time into the cortex of the second rat, or "decoder," rat, which was facing identical apparatus in a tank in North Carolina.

With these prompts from its chum, the decoder rat swiftly found the reward in turn.

"The pair of animals collaborated to solve a task together," said Nicolelis.

What the second rat received were not thoughts, nor were they images, Nicolelis said.

When the encoder rat achieved various tasks, the peaks in his brain signals were transcribed into a telltale pattern of electronic signals that were received by the decoder rat.

Once the rat recognised the usefulness of these patterns, they became incorporated into its visual and tactile processing.

"The second rat learns to recognise a pattern, a statistical pattern, that describes a decision taken by the first rat. He's creating an association of that pattern with a decision," said Nicolelis.

"He may be feeling a little tactile stimulus, but it's something that we don't know how to describe because we cannot question the subject."

The linkage "suggests we could create a brain net, formed of joined-up brains, all interacting," the scientist said, hastening to stress that such experiments would only be conducted on lab animals, not humans.

"If you connect several animal brains, rat brains or primate brains, you probably could be creating an organic computer that is a non-Turing machine, a machine that doesn't work according to the Turing design of all the digital computers that we know. It would be heuristic, it wouldn't use an algorithm, and it would uses probabilistic decision-making based on organic hardware."

Still unclear is how the decoder animal incorporates the encoder's signals into its mental space, a phenomenon called cortical plasticity.

"We basically show that the decoder animal can incorporate another body as an extension of the map that the animal has in it's own brain," said Nicolelis, adding, though: "We don't know how this is done."

Nicolelis carries out research at Duke University in Durham and at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute for Neuroscience of Natal, or ELS-IINN.

A decade ago, he leapt to prominence for pioneering work in having lab monkeys move a robotic arm through brain impulses.

The latest work should help this, he said: "We are learning ways to interact with and send messages to the mammalian brain that will be fundamental for our goals of medical rehabilitation."

His next goal is to have a paraplegic patient give the official kickoff to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, using a brain-machine interface to activate an artificial limb.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130228/scientists-link-two-rats-brains-continent-apart

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Science never ceases to amaze me...

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If you could link your brain with anyone... who would it be?

The world's first brain-to-brain connection has given rats the power to communicate by thought alone.

"Many people thought it could never happen," says Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Although monkeys have been able to control robots with their mind using brain-to-machine interfaces, work by Nicolelis's team has, for the first time, demonstrated a direct interface between two brains – with the rats able to share both motor and sensory information.

The feat was achieved by first training rats to press one of two levers when an LED above that lever was lit. A correct action opened a hatch containing a drink of water. The rats were then split into two groups, designated as "encoders" and "decoders".

An array of microelectrodes – each about one-hundredth the width of a human hair – was then implanted in the encoder rats' primary motor cortex, an area of the brain that processes movement. The team used the implant to record the neuronal activity that occurs just before the rat made a decision in the lever task. They found that pressing the left lever produced a different pattern of activity from pressing the right lever, regardless of which was the correct action.

Next, the team recreated these patterns in decoder rats, using an implant in the same brain area that stimulates neurons rather than recording from them. The decoders received a few training sessions to prime them to pick the correct lever in response to the different patterns of stimulation.

Implants linked

The researchers then wired up the implants of an encoder and a decoder rat. The pair were given the same lever-press task again, but this time only the encoder rats saw the LEDs come on. Brain signals from the encoder rat were recorded just before they pressed the lever and transmitted to the decoder rat. The team found that the decoders, despite having no visual cue, pressed the correct lever between 60 and 72 per cent of the time.

The rats' ability to cooperate was reinforced by rewarding both rats if the communication resulted in a correct outcome. Such reinforcement led to the transmission of clearer signals, improving the rats' success rate compared with cases where decoders were given a pre-recorded signal. This was a big surprise, says Nicolelis. "The encoder's brain activity became more precise. This could have happened because the animal enhanced its attention during the performance of the next trial after a decoder error."

If the decoders had not been primed to relate specific activity with the left or right lever prior to the being linked with an encoder, the only consequence would be that it would have taken a bit more time for them to learn the task while interacting with the encoder, says Nicolelis. "We simply primed the decoder so that it would get the gist of the task it had to perform." In unpublished monkey experiments doing a similar task, the team did not need to prime the animals at all.

In a second experiment, rats were trained to explore a hole with their whiskers and indicate if it was narrow or wide by turning to the left or right. Pairs of rats were then connected as before, but this time the implants were placed in their primary somatosensory cortex, an area that processes touch. Decoder rats were able to indicate over 60 per cent of the time the width of a gap that only the encoder rats were exploring.

Finally, encoder rats were held still while their whiskers were stroked with metal bars. The researchers observed patterns of activity in the somatosensory cortex of the decoder rats that matched that of the encoder rats, even though the whiskers of the decoder rats had not been touched.

Pairs of rats were even able to cooperate across continents using cyberspace. Brain signals from an encoder rat at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil were sent to a decoder in Nicolelis's lab in North Carolina via the internet. Though there was a slight transmission delay, the decoder rat still performed with an accuracy similar to those of rats in closer proximity with encoders.

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Kim Jong-Un, and then I'd inundate our conjoined minds with so much sudden information, he would suffer a brain aneurysm and die.

Of course, I too would die in the process. But being the handsome hero that I am, this is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

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I'd link my brain with Witchcraft and Sedinery to gain control of Kim Jong-Un in the process.

I now have masses of nuclear weaponry at my disposal.

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@Strombone1

That or the smartest man or women in the world who can send me answers on tests? Either that or is the worlds best 'Googler'

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Beethoven. How did he compose music when he couldn't hear it physically? That has always intrigued me.

I guess in general, just someone who doesn't have the same physical capabilities or the handicapped. How does it feel to not be able to do _____? It'd make me cherish what I have more once I d/c

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Thankyou CDC for not letting me down. My faith in humanity is totally restored.

#ILOVEYOURSENSEOFHUMOR - trend it.

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