Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Scientists close in on “cyborg-like” memory chips

Two scientists from the Tel-Aviv University have shown that information can be stored in live neurons. The research results provide a new way to help understand how our brain learns and store information, but also indicate that a “cyborg-like integration of living material into memory chips” could become a reality in the foreseeable future.

The experiment published on May 16 in Physical Review E, is based on the idea that linking neurons can result in spontaneous, coordinated firing. Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel-Aviv University said that they were able to create additional firings by using a special protocol of local chemical stimulations, which created multiple, rudimentary memories stored in the neuron network.

Neuron network with electrodes (c) Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob

To create stored memory in the neurons, the researchers introduced a chemical stimulant into the culture at a specific location. The stimulant induced a second firing pattern, starting at that location. The new firing pattern in the culture along coexisted with the original pattern. 24 hours later, they injected another round of stimulants at a new location, and a third firing pattern emerged. The scientists used an array of electrodes to monitor the firing patterns in a network of linked neurons, which revealed that the three memory patterns persisted, without interfering with each other, for more than 40 hours.

Previously published researched already indicated that coordinated neuron firing, referred to as synchronized bursting events, could be viewed as “memory templates” or “precursers of memory-related activity modes in task-performing in vivo networks.” However, Baruchi and Ben-Jacob are apparently first to actually “store” information in a cultured neuron network for an extended period of time.

Baruchi and Ben-Jacob concluded that chemical signaling mechanisms might play a “crucial role in memory and learning in task-performing [living] networks.” With some imagination, the experiment resulted in a chemically operated neuro-memory chip – which could show a way towards a memory chip that not only includes “dead”, but also living material.

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