Today’s edition of our Current Affairs will comprise a discussion on Organoid Intelligence: To Create Biocomputers. Read further to upgrade your UPSC CSE knowledge and also understand the topic’s relevance to the UPSC syllabus.
For Prelims: General Science
Organoid Intelligence, Biocomputers, mini-brains, multiple electrodes, Pluripotent stem cells
For Mains: GS Paper III (Science and Technology)
About Organoid Intelligence, About the new ‘bio-computer’, Opportunities for ‘bio-computers’:, Commercial usage of ‘bio-computers’.
Recently, scientists unveiled their ambitious plan to create "biocomputers" through the study of "organoid intelligence," a brand-new area of inquiry.
- In these "biocomputers," brain cultures developed in the lab are connected to actual sensors and input/output devices.
- The technology is expected to help scientists comprehend the biological underpinnings of human cognition, learning, and various neurological disorders.
What are ‘bio-computers’ and what can they tell us about the human brain? (150 words, 10 marks)
About Organoid Intelligence
- Traditionally researchers have used rat brains to investigate various human neurological disorders.
- However, to develop systems that are more relevant to humans, scientists are building 3D cultures of brain tissue in the lab, also called brain organoids.
- Features: These “mini-brains” (with a size of up to 4 mm) are built using human stem cells and capture many structural and functional features of a developing human brain.
- Significance: Researchers are now using them to study human brain development and test drugs to see how they respond.
- Brain organoids developed in the lab aren’t sophisticated enough to develop into the complex organ that requires various sensory inputs (touch, smell, vision, etc.). The organoids currently also don’t have blood circulation, which limits how they can grow.
About the new ‘bio-computer’
- The researchers’ have planned to combine brain organoids with modern computing methods to create “bio-computers”.
- Organoids will be coupled with machine learning by growing the organoids inside flexible structures affixed with multiple electrodes (similar to the ones used to take EEG readings from the brain).
- These structures will be able to record the firing patterns of the neurons and also deliver electrical stimuli, to mimic sensory stimuli.
- The response pattern of the neurons and their effect on human behavior or biology will then be analyzed by machine-learning techniques.
- Scientists were able to grow human neurons on top of a microelectrode array that could both record and stimulate these neurons.
Opportunities for ‘bio-computers’
While human brains are slower than computers at, say, simple arithmetic, they outshine machines at processing complex information.
- Brain organoids can also be developed using stem cells from individuals with neurodegenerative diseases or cognitive disorders. Comparing the data on brain structure, connections, and signaling between ‘healthy’ and ‘patient-derived’ organoids can reveal the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and memory.
- They could also help decode the pathology of and drug development for devastating neuro developmental and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and microcephaly.
Commercial usage of ‘bio-computers’
- Currently, brain organoids are about three millionths the size of a real human brain. So increasing the size of the brain organoid and adding non-neuronal cells engaged in biological learning will both help the brain's computing capacity.
- Researchers will also have to develop microfluidic systems to transport oxygen and nutrients, and remove waste products. It is to generate very large amounts of data.
- They will also need to develop and use advanced analytical techniques (with help from machines) to correlate the structural and functional changes in the brain organoids to the various output variables.
- There is also a proposal to have an ethics team to parallelly identify, discuss, and analyze ethical issues as they arise in the course of this work.
- We need to address the limitations of lab-grown organoids and develop a more human-relevant system.
- The effects of drugs in this model will also have to be interpreted through various behavioral tests in rats, which could be insufficiently representative.
News Source: The Hindu
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to make a brain Organoid?
Pluripotent stem cells are cultured in a three-dimensional rotational bioreactor to produce cerebral organoids, which take months to mature.
How are brain organoids created?
These “mini-brains” (with a size of up to 4 mm) are built using human stem cells and capture many structural and functional features of a developing human brain.
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