Scientist who gave rats 'sixth sense' promises bigger revolutions ahead

Research into 'man-machine interface' could one day allow people to communicate directly with electronic devices by thought alone

Boston

The scientist who has given a “sixth sense” to laboratory animals by allowing them to detect invisible infrared light has promised an even bigger revolution in the research field he has pioneered.

Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist working at Duke University in the United States, said that he has created a way of allowing animals to communicate with each other through artificial aids connected directly to their brains.

The research into the “man-machine interface” could one day allow people to communicate directly with electronic devices by thought alone. It could allow paralysed people to control artificial limbs or give blind or deaf people the possibility of seeing or hearing with the help of brain implants.

Professor Nicolelis said that he has now taken the research into a different realm by creating what he has called the “brain-to-brain inferface”. He said he could not provide further details because the work is due to be published later this month in a peer-reviewed journal under a strict confidentiality agreement.

Last week Professor Nicolelis announced in a study published in Nature Communications that he had given rats the ability to “feel” infrared light by attaching light detectors to the touch-sensitive regions of their brain, which normally detect the movements of their face whiskers.

The rats were able to sense infra-red light effectively through the region of the brain connected to their whiskers. They used the light to locate water in a totally dark chamber.

It was the first time that animals have been given a “sixth sense” using electronic devices connected directly to their brain, he said.

“Our rats learn to touch invisible light. They are not seeing infrared light, but they are learning a concept that is similar to synesthesia [when one sense is detected by a different kind of sensory organ],” Professor Nicolelis said.

“They learned to touch invisible light that is delivered by stimulating the touch cortex [of the brain]. In 30 days these animals acquired this pseudo-touch and we learned that they could use this to control other devices,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

“It was a big surprise because we bypassed the skin, we didn’t use the skin to deliver this signal...the animal is feeling light, not seeing light. It’s very interesting,” he said.

“We have extended this concept to what we have called a brain-to-brain interface...It’s an interface that no-one has dreamed could be done,” he added.

Although the researchers used infra-red light, Professor Nicolelis said that any physical energy, such as ultrasound, radio-waves or magnetic fields could be used as a new kind of sense.

It raised the prospect in the future of augmenting the human senses with brain implants that could detect things that are currently undetectable by the body, such as ultrasound, he said.

The rats in the experiment initially tried to rub their whiskers when they detected infra-red light. This was because a miniature light detector fitted to their heads was sending electrical impulses directly to the touch-sensitive region of the brain connected to whisker movements.

However, within the space of a few weeks they had learnt through training to distinguish this extra, artificial sense from real stimulation of their whiskers and use it to find water in a completely dark chamber, Professor Nicolelis said.

“It’s like driving a car or riding a bike. My suspicion is that these animals are feeling touch, its different from regular touch in that they are projecting the feeling of touch, not from their body, but to the external world,” he said.

“We have a monkey now that learned the same task and I was surprised at how quick he was. Now we are equipping our rats with a 360-degree view of the environment so that they can see infrared anywhere, up and down,” he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Arts and Entertainment
TV
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Office Administrator - Full or Part Time

£14600 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 2003 the company...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Content Marketing Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing, Google certi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn