Scientists give rats brain-to-brain communication

Rats with electronically linked brains are able to communicate discoveries directly from one mind to another.

(Head to head image by Alexey Kravasin, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rats with electronically linked brains are able to communicate discoveries directly from one mind to another.

With insects, we've seen how effective a collective consciousness can be; ants, termites, wasps and bees all work together extraordinarily well, even if we don't entirely understand how their group communication works.

However, scientists (and science fiction writers) have long theorised how powerful such a tool could be to humans. For example, only one child from a pod might need to go to school, transferring any information learned to the rest (although, in practice, we imagine this might run into some problems).

Heck, just look at Star Trek's Borg. Terrifying.

The concept of shared mammalian intelligence, however, has just taken a step further out of the realm of fiction. A team led by Miguel Nicolelis at the Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina, has developed a brain-to-brain interface (BTBI) for sharing sensory and motor information in real time.

Intra-cortical microstimulation (ICMS) conducted via cortical microelectrode arrays implanted into the brains of two rats allowed the animals to transmit information instantaneously — so that information learned by a trained "encoder" rat allowed the untrained "decoder" rat to know the answer to puzzles without the need to learn them first-hand.

Here's how it was set up: one group of rats (encoder) were trained to respond to tactile or visual stimuli to 95 per cent accuracy, while the other group (decoder) was trained to respond to ICMS. Then the rats were run in pairs (in separate cages). When the encoder rats were run through their tasks, pressing a lever to obtain a reward, the brain activity pattern was sent into the brain of the decoder rat.

It was discovered that not only could the decoder rat accurately identify the correct lever without having to learn the task around 64 to 72 per cent of the time, it could also teach the encoder in return. If the decoder performed the task correctly, both rats would get a reward. However, if the decoder failed, the encoder would know to do better next time.

And excitingly, the brain activity could be sent via internet — so two rats on opposite sides of the world could work together.

You can read the full paper on the research on Nature, titled "A Brain-to-Brain Interface for Real-Time Sharing of Sensorimotor Information".

All we need now is telekinesis and we can have our very own global Midwich Cuckoos. With rats. Eek.


About the author

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.


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