Organoid Intelligence and Bio-Computers | 07 Mar 2023

For Prelims: Organoid intelligence, Potential uses of Bio-computers.

For Mains: Threats and opportunities of Organoid-culture.

Why in News?

Recently, Scientists have outlined a plan for a potentially revolutionary new area of research called “organoid intelligence”, which aims to create “biocomputers”, where 3D brain cultures grown in the lab are coupled to real-world sensors and input/output devices.

  • Technology is expected to harness the processing power of the brain and understand the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and various neurological disorders.

What is this Technology?

  • 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. It is used to study human brain development and test drugs to see how they respond.
    • However, Brain organoids developed in the lab are not advanced enough as they lack the required sensory inputs and blood circulation that are necessary for the development of a complex organ like the human brain.

  • Moreover, Scientists transplanted human brain organoid cultures into rat brains and observed that they formed connections with the rat brain and showed functional activity.
    • This system could provide a way to study brain diseases in a human context.
    • However, the organoids are still in the rat-brain microenvironment, which may not be representative of the human brain.

What is the New ‘Bio-computer’?

  • Researchers plan to combine brain organoids with modern computing methods using machine learning to create “bio-computers”.
  • They will grow organoids inside structures with multiple electrodes that can record the firing patterns of neurons and mimic sensory stimuli.
  • Machine-learning techniques will then be used to analyse the effect of neuron response patterns on human behavior or biology.
  • Scientists have already grown human neurons on a microelectrode array and trained them to generate electrical activity similar to what electrons would generate while playing table tennis.

What are the Opportunities for ‘Bio-Computers’?

  • Brain organoids developed using stem cells from individuals with diseases like Parkinson's disease and microcephaly can aid drug development for these conditions.
  • These organoids can provide insights into the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and memory by comparing the data on brain structure, connections, and signaling between healthy and patient-derived organoids.
  • While human brains are slower than computers at simple arithmetic, they outshine machines at processing complex information.

Way Forward

  • Currently, brain organoids have a diameter of less than 1 mm, roughly three-millionth the size of an actual human brain. So, scaling up the brain organoid is key to improving its computing capacity.
  • Neural recordings from each neuron and connection will be needed to store and analyse using ‘Big Data’ infrastructure.
  • Researchers will also have to develop microfluidic systems to transport oxygen and nutrients, and remove waste products.
  • There is also a need to identify, discuss, and analyse ethical issues as they arise in the course of this work.