Scientists have wired together the brains of two rats, permitting them to transmit information between each other and cooperate. Although this isn’t exactly telepathy, it is by far the closest any mammal has ever come to reading another mammal’s mind.
The research team, led by neuro-biologist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, has published their findings and results in the journal Scientific Reports. They claim it can improve the control of neural-controlled prosthetic devices. But the bigger picture in mind is that it can lead to new ways to network brains and computers, and communicate by translating neural activity in the brain to actual electronic signals.
The experiment was initiated with the training of the two rats to press one of two levers when a certain light switched on. They then used tiny electrodes, each a fraction of the size of a human hair, to connect the animals’ brains. These electrodes linked the parts of the brain that process motor signals.
Rat number one was called the “encoder” and rat number two was the “decoder.” The first rat’s job was to receive the visual cue to press the lever. If it got it right, it got a reward. As the encoder rat did its task, the electrical activity in the encoder rat’s brain was then translated into a signal and transmitted to the decoder rat. That rat would then press its own lever. For the second rat, though, there was no light cue to tell it which corresponding lever was correct. It could only go by the signal it received from the other rat.
It hit the correct lever an average of about 64 percent of the time, and sometimes up to 72 percent. Although nowhere near perfect, these numbers are much higher than if it were to be by chance. To make sure its actions were due primarily to the choices exuded from the encoder rat’s brain, the team gave it the same simulation, but this time around hooked it up to a computer. The results were similar.
To test whether the rat’s brain would be able to transmit information about touch, Nicolelis ran another experiment. This time the rats were trained to put their nose through an opening and, using their whiskers, distinguish whether the opening was wide or narrow. For wide openings, the rats were taught to poke a computer port on their right. For narrow openings, they poked to the left.
Once trained, the rats were wired up to each other. When the encoder rat poked the relevant port, the scientists recorded the brain activity and sent the signal to the decoder rat. The decoder chose the correct side – left or right – to poke 60 to 65 percent of the time.