Our brain is the most complicated organ in the body – most likely the most complicated thing we know so far in the universe, according to many scientists – with over 90 billion nerve cells, or neurons, and some 150 trillion individual neuron-to-neuron connections, which is called synapses. It is so complicated that scientists are far from understanding how it operates. What you will read next is not out of a science fiction movie.
Researchers at Cambridge University have successfully grown an ‘organoid’’ that can spontaneously connect to a spinal cord.
The miniature brain that was grown in a lab from human stern cells has created a mind of its own – well at least enough awareness to send out neural ‘tendrils’ to connect to the spinal cord and muscle tissue of a mouse, then flex that muscle.
“We like to think of them as mini-brains on the move,” said Madeline Lancaster of Cambridge University, who led the experiment with the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology and published the results in Nature: Neuroscience.
Above is an image of a ‘cerebral organoids’. This was grown from stern cells by the researchers. Photograph: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
The mini-brain is their most sophisticated “organoid” yet, approaching the complexity of a 12-16 week old fetus’ brain. While the researchers claim it’s “too small and primitive to have anything approaching thoughts, feelings or consciousness,” there’s no accurate way to measure consciousness, and the “organoid” has a couple million neurons – meaning it’s operating with the same grey matter equipment as the average cockroach.
After placing a tiny 1mm-long piece of spinal cord and back muscle from a mouse next to the germinating brain-blob, the researchers watched (most likely in awe) as the brain shot out neuronal connections to intertwine with the spine, eventually sending out electrical impulses and causing the mouse muscle to twitch.
The size of the organoid had previously been limited by its ability to access nutrients – once the “blob” got too large, the centre starved. This time, the researchers just cut it into tiny slices and placed them in nutrient-rich liquid, allowing the insides to thrive while connections between the slices continued to grow and develop in complexity for a whole year.
The ambition is to use systems like this to study how the human brain and nervous system develop and why things go wrong in illnesses.
Here’s Some Human Brain Facts That You May Like To Know.
- The human brain is the largest brain of all vertebrates relative to body size.
- It weighs about 3.3 lbs. (1.5 kilograms).
- The average male has a brain volume of 1,274 cubic centimetres (cm3).
- The average female brain has a volume of 1,131 cm3.
- The brain makes up about 2% of a human’s body weight.
- The cerebrum makes up 85% of the brain’s weight.
- It contains about 86 billion nerve cells (neurons) — the “gray matter.”
- It contains billions of nerve fibres (axons and dendrites) — the “white matter.”
- These neurons are connected by trillions of connections, or synapses.
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