It’s been an exciting week for brains and biology. Scientists in Oregon have used a combination of software and brain imaging to read the human mind, their colleagues in England developed a “bio-ink” that can be used to 3-D print living tissue, and a neuroscientist in Canada found a way to evoke and erase memories. Welcome to a brave new world. Read on!
A team of scientists from the University of Oregon has combined computer vision and face-recognition software with real-time, or functional, magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to read the human mind. “Activity patterns evoked by individual faces were then used to generate predicted eigenface values, which could be transformed into reconstructions of individual faces,” they wrote in The Journal of Neuroscience, which published the research. “We show that visually perceived faces were reliably reconstructed from activity patterns.” Oregon neuroscientist Brice Kuhl, who co-authored the paper, told Vox: “Some people use different definitions of mind reading, but certainly, that’s getting close.”
Scientists at the University of Bristol in England have combined stem cells with synthetic medical materials and a polymer from seaweed to design a “bio-ink” that could be used one day for 3-D printing living tissue. “The special bio-ink formulation was extruded from a retrofitted bench-top 3-D printer, as a liquid that transformed to a gel at 37 degrees Celsius, which allowed construction of complex living 3-D architectures,” lead researcher Adam Perriman from the university’s School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine said in a news release. “What was really astonishing for us was when the cell nutrients were introduced, the synthetic polymer was completely expelled from the 3-D structure, leaving only the stem cells and the natural seaweed polymer. This, in turn, created microscopic pores in the structure, which provided more effective nutrient access for the stem cells.” The research was published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials.
University of Toronto neuroscientist Sheena Josselyn is developing molecular tools that can manipulate memories in mice by monitoring the engram, a cluster of brain cells that fire in a specific pattern. Quanta magazine reported the tools can “silence or activate the cells that make up the memory’s pattern, erasing and evoking specific memories and even implanting false memories.” Josselyn told Quanta: “The ethical considerations are enormous, especially if this technology is translated to humans. Is it ethical to simply ‘erase’ a bad memory that someone finds distasteful to remember?” But she said it could help doctors treat drug addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Joseph Kirschvink, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, believes that people can sense Earth’s magnetic field just like birds, bees and other animals do. According to the journal Science, he believes that this “sixth sense” could be as much as 2 billion years old and that it evolved with life onEarth. “I’m suggesting that the original mitochondria were magnetic bacteria,” Kirschvink told Science, which the magazine noted, “could mean that all eukaryotes have a potential magnetic sense.” But its location remains a mystery. “The receptors could be in your left toe,” Kirschvink said.
South Korean scientists have developed a solar panel material thinner than a human hair. The material is so flexible it can be wrapped around a pencil. They say it could one day power wearable electronics and smart glasses. The research was published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.