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Implant Gives Rats Ability to Read Minds. Are Humans Next?

Update Date: Feb 28, 2013 12:32 PM EST
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These days, actual science seems to be catching up with science fiction. Researchers from Duke University in the United States and the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute for Neuroscience in Natal in Brazil have developed a way for rats to communicate using just their minds. However, the study has resulted in mixed reviews from other scientists, who have described the work with adjectives as varied as "amazing" and "simplistic".

According to the BBC, the two rats were connected using electrodes which implanted directly into the brain. Both of the rats were trained to push a particular lever in order to receive a sip of water, receiving a cue from an indicator light above the levers.

Later, the rats were separated. One rat was designated as the "encoder", while the other rat was dubbed the "decoder". The encoder continued to view the indicator light and push down on the lever. That information was transmitted to the second rat, the decoder. The decoder had no indicator lights anymore; in order to know which lever to push, it needed to wait for the signal of the encoder rat. In fact, up to 70 percent of the time, the decoder rat pushed the correct lever.

The researchers also noted some fascinating emergent behaviors, Nature reports. The encoder rat would receive an additional treat if the decoder rat properly followed its cues. As a result, the encoder rat learned to make its movements more clear for the decoder rat to follow.

In addition, in order to make the experiment even more intriguing, researchers connected rats on two different continents thousands of miles away: in Brazil and in the United States. The effort did not change the science, but did require the information to be transmitted via an Internet connection.

Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University and one of the study authors, said that the science behind the study could have a lot of practical applications. It could help researchers create organic computers or unite different portions of the brain that have been separated due to damage or disease.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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