Cyborg Rats Learn to Blink, Next Step World Domination

I’d suspect it’s gotta’ be pretty cool to be a rat. I mean, you basically just run around all day having sex and chewing through soda cans, then again, you’re also getting cyborg implants from dudes like Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University in Israel. Mintz and his team are responsible for installing an artificial cerebellum into a rat and restoring lost brain function, in the little guy. The team is hopeful that such an experiment can someday help restore brain function in stroke victims and the like.

So how exactly does Mintz’s synthetic cerebellum work? The device can receive neuronal information from the rat’s brainstem, analyze the sent message and then send signals to different areas that control motor functions. Similar devices have been installed before, but until now they’ve only been able to send messages one-way, either to the brain or from the brain; now these science pimps can go both ways.

To test the chip, they anaesthetised a rat and disabled its cerebellum before hooking up their synthetic version. They then tried to teach the anaesthetised animal a conditioned motor reflex – a blink – by combining an auditory tone with a puff of air on the eye, until the animal blinked on hearing the tone alone. They first tried this without the chip connected, and found the rat was unable to learn the motor reflex. But once the artificial cerebellum was connected, the rat behaved as a normal animal would, learning to connect the sound with the need to blink. [NewScientist]

Back to my original hypothesis on rats: it’s got to suck being one. FIrst you get a chunk of your brain disconnected, only to then get the exact same area replaced with a slower-version that just teaches you some Ivan Pavlov shtick. Suddenly I don’t mind these things living in my attic, so much. I suppose after today we can call it even.