Biologists have connected living and artificial neurons via the Internet

US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — A worldwide network has helped create a kind of virtual brain from living nerve cells in Italy, artificial neurons in Switzerland and electronic interneuron connections in the UK.

For the first time, these three components were assembled into a single system. Achievement can be a breakthrough on the integration of the human nervous system with a computer.

Details are set out in a scientific article published in the journal Scientific Reports.In addition, researchers in different countries create artificial neurons, in their functionality more and more similar to natural ones.

This time, scientists brought together all three components into a single system. According to a press release from the study, this was done for the first time in the world.

Living nerve cells extracted from rat hippocampus and placed in a culture medium were located at the University of Padova in Italy. Special equipment read electrical signals from them and sent them to the University of Southampton in the UK via the Internet.

There, the signal was transmitted to artificial contacts between neurons (synapses). Such an electronic synapse is a pair of a memristor and a microelectrode from a thin film of titanium oxide. Such a duet successfully imitates the properties of real synapses. For example, it can also increase its conductivity (our short-term memory is based on this property).

Finally, information transformed by an artificial synapse was transmitted to Zurich, where it was processed by electronic neurons. They were silicon chips based on CMOS technology.

In this way, a three-neural network was built, stretching between the three countries. The chain worked in the opposite direction: from Swiss artificial neurons through English memristor synapses to Italian rat brain cells.

The high speed of the Internet allowed the system to work in real time (only pigeon mail would be at our disposal, such a trick would have failed).

As researchers emphasize, the creation of such a “virtual laboratory” allows specialists from different parts of the globe to conduct joint experiments, combining their diverse competencies.

Such a deep integration between living and artificial components can be an important milestone for the brain-computer interfaces, which are still not as perfect as the owners of cyber prostheses would like.


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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.