The researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have grown tiny Neanderthal brains in Petri dishes for the weirdest reason: they’re going to compare caveman cyborgs to human cyborgs and see who wins. Don’t worry, it’s all in the name of science, and there’s more to the story.
Growing Tiny Brains Using Ancient Genes
Geneticist Alysson Muotri said in an interview with Live Science that they want to learn what made humans overpower Neanderthals 40,000 years ago:
“By doing this systematically, we will learn what are the genetic alterations that made us uniquely human and why they were positively selected.”
Scientists will put the Neanderthal mini brains inside robots shaped like crabs and see how they react when they face human-brained robots in combat.
Muotri’s team first had to get stem cells with the genes of our ancestors to create blobs of tissue the size of a pea. These blobs are the “mini brains” that mimic the brain cortex. The same process was used to create mini human organs which are called “organoids.” The mini brains from Neanderthal genes have then been dubbed “Neanderoids.”
The team has already noticed a few differences between the two types of mini-brains. The Neanderoids grow in the shape of a popcorn, while the organoids are round. The neural network of the Neanderoids are similar to the brains of children with autism, but Muotri says in the interview the following – also including that her stepson has autism:
“I don’t want families to conclude that I’m comparing autistic kids to Neanderthals, but it’s an important observation. In modern humans, these types of changes are linked to defects in brain development that are needed for socialization. If we believe that’s one of our advantages over Neanderthals, it’s relevant.”
The Brains Must Be Wired To the Robots
The researchers know how to wire the organoids to the crab robots, and then they hope that the blobs of brain tissue will learn how to explore their surroundings and how to use their “body.” The next step would be to see how Neanderoids act after being wired to the crab-bots.
Later, they will compare the behavior of the two “cyborgs.” Will we see the ultimate robot battle in the future?
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.