Florida scientists have grown a brain in a petri dish and taught it to pilot an F-22 jet simulator.
The brain-in-a-dish is the idea of Thomas DeMarse, 37, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida. His work has been praised as a significant insight into the brain by leading US academics and scientific journals.
The 25,000 neurons were suspended in a specialised liquid to keep them alive and then laid across a grid of 60 electrodes in a small glass dish.
Under the microscope they looked at first like grains of sand, but soon the cells begin to connect to form what scientists are calling a “live computation device” (a brain). The electrodes measure and stimulate neural activity in the network, allowing researchers to study how the brain processes, transforms and stores information.
In the most striking experiment, the brain was linked to the jet simulator. Manipulated by the electrodes and a desktop computer, it was taught to control the flight path, even in mock hurricane-strength winds.
To control the simulated aircraft, the neurons first receive information from the computer about flight conditions: whether the plane is flying straight and level or is tilted to the left or to the right. The neurons then analyze the data and respond by sending signals to the plane’s controls. Those signals alter the flight path and new information is sent to the neurons, creating a feedback system.
Although the brain currently is able to control the pitch and roll of the simulated aircraft in weather conditions ranging from blue skies to stormy, hurricane-force winds, the underlying goal is a more fundamental understanding of how neurons interact as a network, DeMarse said.