Rats Communicate Through Their Linked Brains: The Future of Telepathy?

First Posted: Feb 28, 2013 02:36 PM EST

Telepathy may seem like something out of a science fiction novel, but apparently rats now have the ability--sort of. Researchers have connected the brains of lab rats, allowing one to communicate directly to the other using cables.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, examined pairs of rats that were hooked up to one another using the brain interface device.

The researchers first trained a pair rats to solve a simple problem--pressing the correct lever when an indicator light above the lever was switched on in order to obtain a sip of water. They then placed the rodents in separate chambers and connected their brains using an array of microelectrodes which they inserted into the area of the cortex that processes motor information. One rat was designated as the "encoder," which meant that when the rat pressed the correct lever, its brain activity was sent in the form of electrical stimulation into the brain of its partner, known as the "decoder."

So how did scientists test if their system was working? The decoder rat had the same levers in its chamber as the encoder rat, but it didn't receive any visual cue that indicated which lever it should press in order to obtain a sip of water. In order to actually receive the reward, the rat would have to rely on the cue transmitted from the encoder.

After testing the rats, the scientists found that the decoder rat achieved a maximum success rate of about 70 percent. However, the learning was not instantaneous. It took about 45 hours of training before the rat finally realized that the signal it was receiving allowed it to figure out which lever to press.

The experiment didn't just work in close quarters, either. One replication of the study successfully linked a rat at Duke University with one at the University of Natal in Brazil. Technically, researchers could link up even more animals to have more brains tackling one problem to find out a solution.

The study shows that it's technically possible to take information out of the brain and place information into the brain through artificial means. One researcher even believes that the technology could have future applications for humans. It could be a way to exchange information across millions of people without using keyboards or computers--think of a biological internet. Yet because of the invasive nature of the technique, it's unlikely that such technology will emerge any time soon. After all, who really wants to be hooked up somewhere with a wire in their brain?

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