Brainets – Researchers Establish Brain-To-Brain Networks in Monkeys and Rats

Neuroscientists at Duke University have linked the brains of groups of monkey and rats in networks, and demonstrated how the linked brains of two or more animals can work together to complete simple tasks.

The brain networks, or Brainets, are described in two articles published in the July 9, 2015, issue of Scientific Reports. In separate experiments reported in the journal, the brains of monkeys and the brains of rats are linked, allowing the animals to exchange sensory and motor information in real time to control movement or complete computations. The two articles, both freely available online, are titled “Computing Arm Movements with a Monkey Brainet” and “Building an organic computing device with multiple interconnected brains.”

In previous related developments, the neuroscientists has built Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMIs) to capture and transmit the brain signals of individual rats, monkeys, and even human subjects to artificial devices.

Cooperating And Exchanging Information In Real Time Through Direct Brain-To-Brain Interfaces

MonkeysIn the first article, the researchers report how the electrical activity of more than 700 neurons was recorded from the brains of three monkeys as they moved a virtual arm toward a target. In this experiment, each monkey mentally controlled two out of three dimensions (for example the x-axis and the y-axis) of the virtual arm.

The monkeys could achieve coordinated control only when at least two of them synchronized their brains to produce continuous 3-D signals that moved the virtual arm. As the animals gained more experience and training in the motor task, researchers found that they adapted to the challenge. Overall, performance of the Brainet improved owing to collective monkey behavior.

The study described in the second article used groups of three or four rats whose brains were interconnected via microwire arrays in the brain cortex and received and transmitted information via those wires.

“Recently, we proposed that Brainets, i.e. networks formed by multiple animal brains, cooperating and exchanging information in real time through direct brain-to-brain interfaces, could provide the core of a new type of computing device: an organic computer,” note the neuroscientists in the abstract. “Here, we describe the first experimental demonstration of such a Brainet, built by interconnecting four adult rat brains.”

The scientists add that different Brainet architectures solved a number of useful computational problems, such as discrete classification, image processing, storage and retrieval of tactile information, and even weather forecasting.

Brainets consistently performed at the same or higher levels than single rats in these tasks.

“This is the first demonstration of a shared brain-machine interface,” said Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of the Center for Neuroengineering at the Duke University School of Medicine and principal investigator for the study.

We foresee that [shared BMIs] could soon be translated to clinical practice.

Perhaps the implementation of brainets in humans and the establishment of group minds smarter than their single components is not far.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.