Scientists Get Closer to Having Living Computers
For decades, people have pondered the question, "Could live neurons ever be able to store data in the same way as, for example, RAM does for computers?" The idea seems quite sci-fi.
But maybe it's not. Recently, scientists from the Tel-Aviv University in Israel have succeeded in storing data on live neurons for the first time. As this is exactly what computer memories do (although the neurons do it in their own unique way), scientists are viewing this achievement as an important step toward cyborg (or "cybernetic organism") computer chips.
Computer chips with neurons for memory would theoretically combine human cells with electronic circuits. If researchers could control and program the complex firing patterns of neurons, they could design certain patterns to represent certain pieces of data.
In the past, scientists have experimented with electrically stimulating-or zapping-neurons in an attempt to program them. However, this method interferes with the neurons' firing patterns, and quickly erases stored patterns.
But Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob have used a chemical called picrotoxin to program desired neuronal firing patterns by aiming the chemical at certain points of the neuronal network. In their first attempt, the researchers were able to get these programmed patterns to last for two days, and without erasing previous patterns.
"You can think of it like a Christmas tree with lights that flicker," Ben-Jacob told New Scientist Tech. "We imprinted another pattern of lights on top of the original."
It's a little crazy sounding, but it's not just mad science. The scientists say that such a cyborg device built with human neurons might be able to provide better medical monitoring systems. The human memory chips would respond to the same chemicals as cells in the brain and blood, and offer safe and simple monitors.
But who knows? One day, maybe some of your neurons will store information in your PC (hopefully after they've been extracted from your body).