According to US researchers, a ‘biocomputer’ powered by human brain cells could become a reality within the next decade.
A team from Johns Hopkins University described the technology as “organoid intelligence” noting that it will exponentially expand the capabilities of modern computing and open up new fields of study.
Computing and artificial intelligence, which drove the technological revolution, have reached a limit, according to Thomas, Professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In addition, biocomputing can help “push past our current technological limits,” he says.
For nearly two decades, scientists have experimented on kidneys, lungs, and other organs using tiny organoids, lab-grown tissue resembling fully grown organs.
Hartung and colleagues have recently been working with brain organoids, orbs the size of a pen dot that contain neurons and other features that promise to sustain basic functions such as learning and memory.
“This opens up research on how the human brain works,” Hartung said. “Because you can start manipulating the system, doing things you cannot ethically do with human brains.”
Hartung began growing and assembling brain cells into functional organoids in 2012, using cells reprogrammed into an embryonic stem cell-like state from human skin samples. Each organoid contains approximately 50,000 cells, which are roughly the size of a fruit fly’s nervous system. He now plans to use such brain organoids to construct a futuristic computer.
Computers that run on this “biological hardware” could begin to alleviate the energy-consumption demands of supercomputing that are becoming increasingly unsustainable in the next decade, according to Hartung’s paper published in the journal Frontiers in Science.
While “the brain is still unmatched by modern computers,” Hartung envisions a future in which biocomputers support superior computing speed, processing power, data efficiency, and storage capabilities by scaling up production of brain organoids and training them with artificial intelligence.
Organoid intelligence, according to the researchers, could also revolutionise drug testing research for neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegeneration.