What are bio-computer and what can they tell us about human nature – The Core IAS

What are bio-computer and what can they tell us about human nature



  • John Hopkin University scientists very recently brought forward a plan for a novel area of research known as “organoid intelligence.” This particular field of study intends to create bio-computers.
  • The traditional method of studying the human brain involves using rat brains, which are structurally and functionally different from human brains.
  • In such an invention, a blend of brain cultures developed and grown in laboratories, input and output devices, and real-world sensors are intended. The aim is to control the brain’s processing power and dive deep into the biological basis of learning, cognition, learning, and a myriad of neurological disorders.

The New Bio-computer?

  • The JHU researchers’ scheme will combine brain organoids (with multiple electrodes similar to those used to take EEG readings from the brain) with modern computing methods (machine learning) to create “bio-computers”.
  • Bio-computers would be designed and created by combining brain organoids and modern computing methods. Machine learning will be used to couple the organoids. Organoids would be grown inside flexible structures affixed with various electrodes. One can visualize them similar to the ones used in the case of Electroencephalogram readings. 
  • These brain organoids grown in the lab are coupled to real-world sensors and input/output devices to develop into the complex organ.
  • The scientists were able to grow human neurons on top of a microelectrode array that could both record and stimulate these neurons. Such structures would be able to dive deep into recording and studying the firing patterns of neurons.
  • Not long ago, scientists grew human neurons on top of a microelectrode array that was able to not only record but also stimulate such neurons with the help of positive or negative electric feedback derived from the sensors.

Understanding the human brain

  • However, unlike all other parts of the body, studying the human mind has never been easy. Earlier, methods like ablation were used on animals, especially rats to study the human brain parts that are similar in both rats and humans.
  • The use of brain studying techniques on animals and sometimes harming them eventually in the process of enhancing human behavior understanding has always been a controversial discussion.
  • Moreover, while studying the rat brain was an easier and perhaps more accessible option to study the human brain, one cannot ignore the massive differences in the structures and functions of the rat brain and the human brain. Next came advanced methods like EEG, MEG, and fMRI to study the human brain.
  • Now, the technology is perhaps at its best, and thus, 3D cultures of the brain would be the next big thing. Modern-day scientists are designing brain organoids, which are actually 3D cultures of the brain designed in laboratories. These organoids would actually be called “mini-brains” and would be built with the use of human stem cells. These brains would be able to hold a myriad of structural and functional features of a developing human brain. Who thought mankind would be able to create a mini-human brain in the 21st century?
  • Human behavior is based on some internal or external stimulation. Various sensory inputs like vision, smell, touch, and more are required by the human brain, and that’s what makes it a complex yet incredible organ of the body. A body of science just at its birth stage cannot compete with nature. The brain organoids not only lack sensory inputs like the normal human brain but also do not have blood circulation.

Opportunities for Bio-computers:

  • Brain organoids can be developed using stem cells from individuals with neurodegenerative diseases or cognitive disorders to reveal the biological basis of human cognition learning and memory.
  • Bio-computers could help decode the pathology of and develop drugs for neurodevelopmental and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and microcephaly.
  • While human brains are slower than computers, they outshine machines at processing complex information.

Challenges for Bio-computers:

  • Brain organoids have a diameter of less than 1 mm and have fewer than 100,000 cells on average, limiting their computing capacity. So scaling up the brains organoid is key to improcing its computing capacity.
  • Researchers will have to develop microfluidic systems to transport oxygen and nutrients and remove waste products.
  • There is also a proposal to have an ethics team to parallelly identify, discuss, and analyse ethical issues as they arise in the course of this work.
  • The hybrid systems will generate large amounts of data that will need to be stored and analyzed using BIG DATA infrastructure and advanced analytical techniques to correlate the structural and fuctional changes in the brain organoids to the various output variables.
  • Very-primitive forms of learning are already around, and the challenges is now to establish long-term memory, which may take more time.

Reference: THE HINDU

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