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New Artificial Brain is Healthy, Growing, and (Maybe) Learning

Researchers have created an artificial 3D brain made up of neural tissue, and over its six-month lifespan it will do, well, very brain-ish things:

Scientists coaxed neurons to grow around stiff, porous matrices made of silk proteins immersed in collagen gel … By tweaking the size and orientation of matrix pores, researchers attempted to emulate variations of cellular structure and function in a real cortex. Unlike flat neuron cultures grown in petri dishes, the structure provides cells with something to cling to as they branch out and make connections, forming complex, 3D networks that more closely mimic real neural circuits, the authors say.

The spongy artificial mini-brain will stay alive for at least six months as neurologists study how it grows, learns, and heals from injury. The idea of a test tube brain isn’t an entirely new one; several years ago, a scientist successfully persuaded a artificial 2D brain made out of rat neurons to play a flight simulator. 

What makes the new kind of brain stand out is its six-layer 3D structure, which approximates the layout—though not the complexity—of the mammalian neocortex. If past experiments are any indication, these neurons are thinking about something; we don’t know what, or how well, but the very fact that we’re talking about creating a new brain by persuading neurons to interact with each other in a spongy collagen goo suggests that we just might be on the verge of growing something amazing.

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Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.
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