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“Organoid Intelligence” – Revolutionary Biocomputers

Published: 9th Mar, 2023

Context

Recently, researchers presented their ideas for "organoid intelligence," a potentially ground-breaking new field of study that aspires to develop Biocomputers.

Bio-computers and their functioning:

  • Researchers plans to produce "bio-computers" by fusing brain organoids with contemporary computing techniques.
  • They intend to grow the organoids inside flexible frameworks attached with several electrodes, where they will be combined with machine learning (similar to the ones used to take EEG readings from the brain).
  • These structures will be able to administer electrical stimuli to simulate sensory sensations as well as record the neuronal firing patterns. 
  • Then, using machine learning techniques, the response pattern of the neurons and their impact on human behaviour or biology will be analysed.

What is Organoid Intelligence (OI)?

  • OI is an emerging multidisciplinary field working to develop biological computing using 3D cultures of human brain cells (brain organoids) and brain-machine interface technologies. 
  • It will be possible by scaling up current brain organoids into complex, durable 3D structures enriched with cells and genes associated with learning, and connecting these to next-generation input and output devices and AI/machine learning systems.

What are organoids?

  • Organoids are stem cell-derived, microscopic, self-organized three-dimensional tissue cultures. Such cultures can be developed to mimic a much of an organ's intricacy.
  • These are tiny organ-like structures that frequently resemble the embryonic phases of a developing tissue but lack the full functional maturity of human organs.

Opportunities of ‘bio-computers’:

  • Biological basis of human cognition: stem cells from sufferers of cognitive or neurodegenerative problems can be used to create brain organoids.
    • The biological underpinnings of human cognition, learning, and memory can be discovered by comparing the information on brain anatomy, connections, and signalling between "healthy" and "patient-derived" organoids.
  • Drug development: They might aid in understanding the biology of and developing drugs for severe neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders including Parkinson's disease and microcephaly.

Are ‘bio-computers’ ready for commercial use?

The answer to the questions lies in the below given concerns: 

  • Smaller size: Today, brain organoids are around three millionths the size of a real human brain, with an average cell count of less than 100,000 and a diameter of less than 1 mm.
    • Therefore, increasing the size of the brain organoid and adding non-neuronal cells involved in biological learning will both help the brain's computing capabilities.
  • Microfluidic systems: microfluidic systems are not yet developed by the researchers, which help to transport oxygen and nutrients, and remove waste products.
  • Advanced analytical techniques: Scientist have not yet developed the advanced analytical techniques (with help from machines) to correlate the structural and functional changes in the brain organoids to the various output variables.
  • Long-term memory: The challenge in front of researchers is to develop long term memory, which they would achieve within 1-25 years
  • Ethical issues:  There is no team to deal with the ethical issues arising from the bio-computers. Ethical guidelines have to be developed for the ethical use of bio-computers.
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