Posts tagged neuroscience

Human brain-to-brain communication demonstrated.

Two University of Washington Scientists claim to have demonstrated the world’s first brain-to-brain communication, sent over the internet via Skype.

First set of brain mapping data released by the HCP.

The Human Connectome Project (HCP) is a five year project launched in 2009 to build a “network map” of the human brain. Data from 1,200 healthy adults is being gathered using two different methods, using two different MRI approaches.

This week the first set of data has been released to the scientific community, with a whopping 2 terabytes in the initial release. Regular updates will be available every three months.

By providing what is hopes is an “unparalleled compilation of neural data, with an interface to graphically navigate this data”, the HCP hopes to achieve never before realized conclusions about the brain, in a similar way to the human genome project.

Check out the data here.

Video: Speech reconstructed from brainwaves.

Researchers at the University of California have been working to reconstruct speech from brain activity. While only a few sounds and words are audible in the video, it’s amazing to see that they are getting there.

Of course this would be great news for people with any form of disability affecting their speech, but you can imagine DARPA would also be right into this for military communication as well.

Sound is made up of different frequencies which are separated in the brain and processed in different areas. “Simply put, one spot [of neurons] might only care about a frequency range of 1000 hertz and doesn’t care about anything else. Another spot might care about a frequency of 5000 hertz,” says Pasley. “We can look at their activity and identify what frequency they care about. From that we can assume that when that spot’s activity is increasing there was a sound that had that frequency in it.”

Artificial neural network created from DNA.
Researchers at Caltech have created the world’s first artificial neural network using DNA.
Using 112 DNA strands to create four artificial neurons, the researchers were able to give the ‘brain’ a memory. They then trained it to remember traits of four different scientists whose identities are each represented by a specific, unique set of answers to four yes-or-no questions, such as whether the scientist was British.
The scientists could then give the network a set of clues and let it pick which scientist they were thinking of. They communicated with the brain by dropping in DNA strands encoded with ‘clues’, and the neural network could communicate back using fluorescent signals.
While this network only has four neurons which work at very slow rates compared to the 100 billion neurons in the human brain, it is an important first step to creating artificial intelligence. The research could also have uses to create new ‘smart drugs’ - ones that can intelligently respond to the presence of other molecules - which could allow engineers to produce increasingly complex chemicals or build new kinds of structures, molecule by molecule.

Artificial neural network created from DNA.

Researchers at Caltech have created the world’s first artificial neural network using DNA.

Using 112 DNA strands to create four artificial neurons, the researchers were able to give the ‘brain’ a memory. They then trained it to remember traits of four different scientists whose identities are each represented by a specific, unique set of answers to four yes-or-no questions, such as whether the scientist was British.

The scientists could then give the network a set of clues and let it pick which scientist they were thinking of. They communicated with the brain by dropping in DNA strands encoded with ‘clues’, and the neural network could communicate back using fluorescent signals.

While this network only has four neurons which work at very slow rates compared to the 100 billion neurons in the human brain, it is an important first step to creating artificial intelligence. The research could also have uses to create new ‘smart drugs’ - ones that can intelligently respond to the presence of other molecules - which could allow engineers to produce increasingly complex chemicals or build new kinds of structures, molecule by molecule.

Scientists create a brain ‘memory expansion’.
Scientists in California have created a chip that allows rats to instantly have access to new knowledge. The prosthetic chip uses electrodes to ‘enhance and expand their memory abilities’.
The chip works like an electronic memory when connected to the rats brain:

"Flip the switch on, and the rats remember. Flip it off, and the rats forget […] These integrated experimental modeling studies show for the first time that with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time identification and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive mnemonic processes."

The team now hopes to create the same result in monkeys.

Scientists create a brain ‘memory expansion’.

Scientists in California have created a chip that allows rats to instantly have access to new knowledge. The prosthetic chip uses electrodes to ‘enhance and expand their memory abilities’.

The chip works like an electronic memory when connected to the rats brain:

"Flip the switch on, and the rats remember. Flip it off, and the rats forget […] These integrated experimental modeling studies show for the first time that with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time identification and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive mnemonic processes."

The team now hopes to create the same result in monkeys.

Brain in a petri dish has 12 second memory.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have published a study showing how an artificially created brain in a petri dish is able to remember information for up to 12 seconds.
 
How did they do it?
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 then excited the neurons with an electrical pulse.
Zeringue and his colleagues were 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 at most, the model’s 12 seconds permitted an extensive observation of how the neurons transmitted and held the electrical charge, Zeringue said.

Brain in a petri dish has 12 second memory.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have published a study showing how an artificially created brain in a petri dish is able to remember information for up to 12 seconds.

How did they do it?

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 then excited the neurons with an electrical pulse.

Zeringue and his colleagues were 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 at most, the model’s 12 seconds permitted an extensive observation of how the neurons transmitted and held the electrical charge, Zeringue said.

Blue Brain Project hopes to create a digital brain by 2024.
The Blue Brain Project has been working since 2005 to build a complete computer model of a cortical column from a rat - one of the basic blocks of the brain structure. According to boingboing:
"You know that brains start with neurons, cells that can transmit electrochemical signals. A single neuron is like one person, standing around by themselves and playing an instrument. A cortical column is like an orchestra, with thousands of neurons communicating and working together to accomplish a single task. There are 10,000 neurons in a single rat cortical column. Ten thousand neurons, an amazing amount of complexity—just to do something simple, like twitch a single whisker. To make a whole functional rat brain, you need 100,000 cortical columns. The larger, more complex human brain is even more astounding, with some 100,000 neurons to a single cortical column and perhaps as many as 2 millioncolumns.
Recreating that on a computer requires a frightening amount of processing capability. Each neuron, alone, needs the equivalent of a standard laptop. The computer that the Swiss team used to model a single rat cortical column is a massive beast, one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.
The Blue Brain Project is currently in the running for a European Commission research grant that would bring in 100 million euros a year for 10 years. The final decision won’t happen until next Spring, but if Blue Brain gets the nod, it’ll become the Human Brain Project—and could be a major step toward creating a man-built mind. (Or death by Skynet, depending on whether you’re a glass-is-half-empty kind of person.)”
Check out more photos of the project here.

Blue Brain Project hopes to create a digital brain by 2024.

The Blue Brain Project has been working since 2005 to build a complete computer model of a cortical column from a rat - one of the basic blocks of the brain structure. According to boingboing:

"You know that brains start with neurons, cells that can transmit electrochemical signals. A single neuron is like one person, standing around by themselves and playing an instrument. A cortical column is like an orchestra, with thousands of neurons communicating and working together to accomplish a single task. There are 10,000 neurons in a single rat cortical column. Ten thousand neurons, an amazing amount of complexity—just to do something simple, like twitch a single whisker. To make a whole functional rat brain, you need 100,000 cortical columns. The larger, more complex human brain is even more astounding, with some 100,000 neurons to a single cortical column and perhaps as many as 2 millioncolumns.

Recreating that on a computer requires a frightening amount of processing capability. Each neuron, alone, needs the equivalent of a standard laptop. The computer that the Swiss team used to model a single rat cortical column is a massive beast, one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

The Blue Brain Project is currently in the running for a European Commission research grant that would bring in 100 million euros a year for 10 years. The final decision won’t happen until next Spring, but if Blue Brain gets the nod, it’ll become the Human Brain Project—and could be a major step toward creating a man-built mind. (Or death by Skynet, depending on whether you’re a glass-is-half-empty kind of person.)”

Check out more photos of the project here.

Artificial synapse created in the lab.
Researchers at the University of Southern California have created a functioning synapse - the connection which allows electrical impulses through our brains - out of carbon nanotubes. 
The artificial synapse is able to mimic a real one as the waveforms that are sent into it, and come out of it, are also understood as biological waveforms. In other words, a device made using this technique could one day be placed in a human brain to act as a ‘prosthetic’ for a damaged part, or even to enhance the brain, as it would be able to work with the existing structure of the human brain.
The researchers noted that it would likely be decades before a full synthetic brain would be able to be assembled.

Artificial synapse created in the lab.

Researchers at the University of Southern California have created a functioning synapse - the connection which allows electrical impulses through our brains - out of carbon nanotubes. 

The artificial synapse is able to mimic a real one as the waveforms that are sent into it, and come out of it, are also understood as biological waveforms. In other words, a device made using this technique could one day be placed in a human brain to act as a ‘prosthetic’ for a damaged part, or even to enhance the brain, as it would be able to work with the existing structure of the human brain.

The researchers noted that it would likely be decades before a full synthetic brain would be able to be assembled.

Video of the day: Controlling behavior using magnets.

The technique, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, can be used to inhibit specific regions of the brain. In this case they are used in the speech center of the subjects brain, preventing him from reciting a nursery rhyme. Interestingly enough, different parts of the brain are responsible for singing and speaking, so he is still able to sing the nursery rhyme.

Future applications for this technique are being investigated by DARPA for use in battle helmets, to allow soldiers to increase levels of alertness or relieve stress. Here’s hoping they can also unlock a speed function similar to the Nanosuit in Crysis!

Newly discovered drug makes old memories come back.
An enzyme in the brain called PKMzeta helps maintain long term storage of memories in the brain. During testing, a group of neuroscientists found that boosting levels of the enzyme helped rats recall, in great detail, events they’d experienced many days beforehand. Lowering levels of the enzyme caused the rats to forget old memories more quickly. What’s remarkable about this discovery is that the enzyme can help the animals recall these old memories even if they weren’t boosting their levels of PKMzeta at the time the memories were formed.
If the same technique worked in humans, it could be a way to treat memory loss, particularly that caused by old age or disease.

Newly discovered drug makes old memories come back.

An enzyme in the brain called PKMzeta helps maintain long term storage of memories in the brain. During testing, a group of neuroscientists found that boosting levels of the enzyme helped rats recall, in great detail, events they’d experienced many days beforehand. Lowering levels of the enzyme caused the rats to forget old memories more quickly. What’s remarkable about this discovery is that the enzyme can help the animals recall these old memories even if they weren’t boosting their levels of PKMzeta at the time the memories were formed.

If the same technique worked in humans, it could be a way to treat memory loss, particularly that caused by old age or disease.