Rat Mind Meld
Scientists successfully connect the brains of two animals for the first time
Can you imagine if another person could read your thoughts? Well, it’s no longer such a crazy idea. For the first time ever, scientists have linked the brains of two animals using electronic sensors, so that when one rat presses a certain lever, a second rat usually does the same.
Duke University Medical Center’s Miguel Nicolelis, who led the research, had already been creating mechanical limbs that injured or paralyzed (unable to move) people could operate with their brain signals. But he wanted to see if he could make one brain understand signals from another brain—and he succeeded. Nicolelis says this could be the first step toward linking multiple brains to solve problems that one brain can’t.
Researchers at Duke paired rats together, then placed them in separate chambers with the same two levers in each. The researchers taught the first rat to press one of the levers using light signals above the correct lever. Electronic sensors in the rat’s brain recorded its brain patterns and sent them to a computer, which transmitted the brain patterns to the second rat’s brain.
Seven out of 10 times, the second rat pressed the correct lever. The researchers got similar results in a second experiment, in which the rats had to distinguish between a narrow and a wide opening with their whiskers.
In both experiments, long, thin wires connected the rats’ brains. But to show how far brain waves can travel, the scientists placed two rats thousands of miles apart—one in a lab in Brazil and the other at Duke in North Carolina. They captured the thoughts of the rat in Brazil and sent them via the Internet to the brain of the rat at Duke. The rat in the U.S. still performed the task correctly most of the time.
Nicolelis and his team published their research in a scientific journal. They are now working on brain-to-brain communication between two monkeys, as well as between four rats. “It could be possible to create a workable network of animal brains distributed in many different locations,” says researcher Miguel Pais-Vieira, who also worked on the experiment.